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EU Commission boss unveils road map to exit coronavirus restrictions

The guidelines come as the number of coronavirus cases in the EU reach 1 million.

Updated Apr 15th 2020, 1:22 PM

EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT Ursula von der Leyen has outlined the three recommended criteria needed to lift lockdown measures across EU member states.

It comes as Denmark opens some of its schools, and retailers in Italy reopen. 

Speaking this morning, von der Leyen said that announcing the criteria “is not a signal that containment measures can be lifted as of now”. Their recommendation is that lockdown measures should be lifted “gradually”, and that actions should be “continuously monitored”.

Brussels is deeply concerned about the damage that could be done if each EU nation charts its own course, given the panic that ensued after the pandemic first spread in Italy, with unannounced border closures that sparked massive traffic jams and export bans that deprived hard-hit countries of medical equipment.

Here are the three recommended criteria:

  • There should be “sound epidemiological criterion” that shows a “significant decrease” in the spread of coronavirus over a period of time
  • There needs to be a reserve, or capacity, in healthcare system. This isn’t just intensive care capacity, but also capacity for patients with other acute diseases
  • Large scale testing needs to be possible to monitor the activity of the virus.

Von der Leyen said that member states needed to cooperate to tackle the virus properly.

By reopening shops on one side of the border, we will not want people moving from one member state to another member state, so [coordination is needed]. Good neighbours speak with each other.

Business operations should be phased in by sectors, based on things like how much can be done over the internet, the economic importance of the industry, or the kinds of shift work that could be introduced. Social distancing should be maintained and there should be no general return to work, the document said.

Shops could gradually reopen, with possible limits on the number of people who could enter, and school could start again, although the commission recommends smaller classes to allow pupils to work at a safer distance from each other. Lunch breaks could be set at different times and internet learning should be preferred where possible.

Brussels says a gap of around one month should be left between any steps to monitor their impact.

Elderly people should be protected for longer, while restaurants, bars and cinemas could resume business with restricted opening hours and limits on the number of people who could enter. Measures blocking mass gatherings like festivals and concerts would be among the last to be lifted.

On Monday, Health Minister Simon Harris outlined three similar criteria that lifting restrictions would be based on: ICU capacity, the reproduction rate of the virus, and the overall  rate of growth in Ireland.

“Being truthful,” he said, “social distancing is going to remain a very big part of life not just in Ireland but the world over, until we get to a vaccine or an effective treatment for the coronavirus.”


Stronger after?

On the global fight against the new coronavirus, von der Leyen said today that she would host an online pledging conference on 4 May to come up with “innovative and equitable solutions” to funding research for a coronavirus vaccine.

“We all know the virus knows no borders”, and that accelerated work “on diagnostics, on treatments, and if we have a vaccine, how it is distributed” throughout countries was needed.

“This is our collective best shot of defeating the virus,” she said, adding that there was a “strong link” between a successful recovery from the health crisis and an economic recovery.

European Council President Charles Michel spoke about the lessons that needed to be learned from the pandemic: “How is it possible to be stronger after this crisis?”

The announcement was made as more than one million cases of the coronavirus have been detected in Europe, just over half the global total, according to a tally compiled by AFP from official sources.

With at least 1,003,284 cases, including 84,465 deaths, Europe is the worst hit continent.

Globally, 1,991,019 Covid-19 infections and 125,955 deaths have been registered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections.

Many countries are testing only the most serious cases.

- with reporting from AFP and PA

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