By Francesco Guarascio
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission proposed on Wednesday a series of new measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the European Union, saying the new spike in infections on the continent was “alarming”.
As Europe again becomes the world’s epicentre of the pandemic, the EU executive urged the 27 EU governments to do more and in a more coordinated fashion against the virus.
“The relaxation of applied measures during the summer months was not always accompanied by steps to build up sufficient response capacity,” the Commission warned in a statement as part of its formal proposal to EU governments for action.
To better trace the spread of infections, Brussels said EU governments should coordinate their testing strategies and make a larger use of rapid antigen tests, despite the global supply for these kits is now tightening.
It warned the “current shortfalls in testing capacity” required swift action.
Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU executive would direct 100 million euros ($118 million) to buy up to 22 million antigen tests to meet EU countries’ “immediate needs”. It is now urging states to buy more through a joint procurement scheme.
It also said states should have common testing requirements for incoming travellers, including tests at arrival if tests were not available in the country of departure. It called for coordinated rules on quarantines.
To avoid risks of new shortages of medical equipment, which dogged the bloc at the beginning of the pandemic in spring, the Commission said it had launched a joint procurement for gear needed to inoculate people, such as syringes and disinfectants.
It also extended to April a temporary suspension of customs duties and sales tax on import of medical equipment.
EU countries could also exempt COVID-19 testing kits and vaccines from sales tax, the Commission said.
The Commission also repeated its call on EU governments to quickly devise vaccination strategies so that the most vulnerable people could quickly access COVID-19 vaccines if and when effective shots will be available.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio, editing by Robin Emmott)