EU countries ignoring pandemic lessons amid China’s COVID outbreak – POLITICO

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It didn’t take long for EU countries to let go of the biggest lesson of the pandemic.

The principle of collective response to health threats, which underpins the European Union’s so-called Health Union, was ignored at the first sign of trouble.

All it took was a spike in COVID cases in China for several EU countries to go their own way and implement travel measures that the bloc’s scientific experts have criticized as « unwarranted ».

With China abandoning its zero COVID policy, countries like the United States and Japan have tightened border controls for travelers from China. Italy was the first EU country to act, imposing mandatory testing on travelers from China, leaving the EU scrambling to preempt another disjointed bloc-wide response that marked some of the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A meeting of the EU’s security committee on Thursday resulted in the countries deciding not to take any joint action on travel, the Commission Tweeter that “the coordination of national responses to serious cross-border health threats is crucial”. But that hasn’t stopped Spain from imposing its own measures, with the Ministry of Health announcing Friday that travelers arriving from China must be fully vaccinated or test negative.

The fear of countries like Italy, the United States, Japan and now Spain is that China could be a breeding ground for new variants. But current scientific opinion is that this is unlikely, given that China is way behind the curve when it comes to variants and those present in China will not be able to compete with strains circulating outside the country.

But that does not prevent a European political quarrel from starting.

As Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni urges EU to take joint action, acknowledging action by Italy alone ‘may not be fully effective if not taken by the whole EU « , she is joined by eminent European parliamentarians. The leader of the European Parliament’s centre-right bloc, the European People’s Party Manfred Weber, has called for mandatory block-wide testing for travelers from China.

Instinctive responses

There are echoes of earlier national differences on COVID policies, « with more competition rather than coordination on what to do, » said Paul Belcher, European public health consultant and adviser to the European Alliance. of public health. But Belcher said that was ultimately overcome through joint approaches on topics such as vaccines and new EU structures that facilitated decision-making processes.

These include the new European Health Union, which aims to ensure better coordination of health security in the event of a crisis. The underlying principle? Prepare and respond collectively.

Now, the disagreements over China « show that this lack of knee-jerk national responses has not entirely gone away, » Belcher said.

EU countries have not finished discussing the issue. POLITICO’s Brussels Playbook reports that the Council’s so-called integrated political crisis response mechanism – the EU’s de facto crisis forum – will take place next week.

Patients in the Hall of Chongqing No. 5 People’s Hospital in Chongqing | Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images

EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides also told health ministers in a letter sent on Thursday evening that the situation was « evolving ». She said countries should assess their national practices for genomic surveillance of the virus – and increase capacity if needed – and implement wastewater monitoring, including airport wastewater.

« If a new variant of the SARS-CoV2 virus emerges – whether in China or the EU – we need to detect it early so that we are ready to respond quickly, » Kyriakides said in the letter seen by POLITICO. Commission guidelines are also in progress.

Where Kyriakides expressed concern was the lack of reliable epidemiological data from China. The health commissioner has also reached out to her Chinese counterparts and offered public health expertise, including a donation of variant-matched European vaccines.

China’s secret is also a concern raised by World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who called for « more detailed information » from China.

« In the absence of complete information from #Chinait is understandable that countries around the world are acting in ways they believe can protect their populations,” he tweeted.

Carlo Martuscelli contributed reporting.

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