Ireland will today be urged to agree common EU rules on Covid-19 testing, tracing and quarantine at a special leaders’ summit.
The meeting comes as France, Germany and Belgium have seriously upped their lockdown regimes in common with the vast bulk of the 27 EU member states. EU council president Charles Michel, who will chair the summit which gathers on videolink, will also outline the need to plan for best use of a Covid 19 vaccine, hopefully expected later this year, or early in 2021.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has for the second consecutive week warned that the European region accounted for the biggest proportion of new infections, with more than 1.3 million cases or almost half the global total. The WHO said European deaths were on the rise with increasing pressure on hospitals and critical care facilities.
“We are in a storm. We are all in the same boat. And in this storm, we must keep cool heads,” the EU summit chairman, Charles Michel, told the French radio RTL yesterday.
The EU leaders have had regular discussions on anti-Covid 19 measures at every summit since early June. After a slow and poor response in February and March, the EU has stepped up efforts and in July the leaders agreed in principle on a virus economic recovery fund worth €1.7 trillion for the years 2021-2027.
The Taoiseach has previously spoken of the need for more EU anti-virus coordination and is understood to be approaching these talks with a very open mind. “Ireland generally accepts the need for more coordination on all these issues and the need to progress EU solutions,”
The EU is the world’s largest trading bloc of 27 nations and 450 million people. It relies upon free movement between member states and the mutual recognition of each other’s standards and laws to keep the EU economy alive.
Ahead of today’s video summit Mr Michel said nations must coordinate their approval of new coronavirus tests and of tracing systems aimed at halting its spread, as well as common rules for quarantine and isolation. He said a lack of coordination and mutual recognition of procedures and standards risked a return to the divisions and bickering seen last spring.
As the pandemic spread through Europe in late February-March, countries bickered over access to face masks and medical equipment. The were also unilateral border restrictions which caused some major traffic jams adding to people’s distress.
Reports from Brussels suggested several EU countries, including Spain, are pushing for a system of mandatory tests ahead of travelling into the country as a way to avoid any new border closures. The program, if approved, could also involve random tests on arrivals.
Mr Michel also urged the leaders to prepare for prioritizing vaccinations. “Based on the information we have, at the end of the year or early next year, three or four vaccine candidates could be available,” Mr Michel said.
The EU council president said the issues which needed to be thrashed out in advance included fair distribution, a public information system, and coordinated supervision of side effects from a product which had been so quickly developed.
In Dublin a the Dáil’s EU affairs committe heard that Brussels had pumped in some €660m this year into vaccine research. Fine Gael TD, Neale Richmond, said it was clear that no EU country would be save from the virus until all were safe from it.
The EU will use €100m emergency funds to buy rapid, less reliable, antigen tests.