BRUSSELS, Belgium (AFP) — Brussels has set aside 220 million Euros to transfer COVID patients from hard-hit member states to neighbours with spare hospital beds, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said Thursday. Speaking after a videoconference with the 27 EU leaders, Von der Leyen called for European capitals to pool coronavirus data as “the good use of the money requires good information in exchange”.
The leaders heard calls for greater coordination in their responses to the epidemic, which is once again sweeping over Europe in a second-wave rapidly outpacing the original disaster in March and April.
They were urged not to close their borders to each other, but to work together to share the best techniques for controlling the virus and prepare the distribution of an eventual vaccine.
According to her spokesman, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel told the leaders that “a coordinated European approach is of great importance in combating the pandemic”.
“Especially for Germany, as a country in the middle of Europe, it is important that the borders remain open, that there is a functioning economic cycle and that we fight the pandemic together,” she said.
Von der Leyen, herself an academic epidemiologist before going into German politics, said “massive testing” would be key to getting through the crisis and called on EU states to adopt joint standards for rapid antigen testing.
“This will then enable us to describe the optimal setting for the different forms of tests,” she said.
“And it will enable us for a mutual recognition of test results across the European Union. And that of course is important mainly when essential travel is taking place.”
In a tweet, the Netherlands’ premier Mark Rutte said there had been “good discussion” and “though each country organises their own healthcare system, we must work together where we can”.
The informal videoconference, hosted by European Council president Charles Michel, is supposed to become a semi-regular forum for EU leaders to coordinate their response over the coming months.
Face-to-face EU summits have been scaled back or postponed amid fears that senior officials will be exposed or spread the virus further, with Belgium, and Brussels in particular, badly hit.
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