Throughout Europe, the numbers of new COVID-19 cases are currently rising sharply, confronting the EU member states with huge challenges. At their summit meeting in mid-October, in response to a suggestion of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leaders agreed to meet regularly to exchange views on the course of the pandemic and ways of addressing it. Charles Michel, President of the European Council, issued an invitation to a meeting of this sort on Thursday evening.

Avoiding border closures

Firstly, the EU heads of state and government shared their experience with measures taken at national level in member states to address the pandemic. They then discussed how member states can cooperate more effectively at EU level.

Chancellor Angela Merkel explained the measures announced on Wednesday in Germany to stem the spread of the coronavirus and bring the infection rate down to a lower level again. She again stated clearly that a coordinated European approach is vitally important in the fight against the pandemic. “For Germany, which lies right in the centre of Europe, it is particularly important that borders stay open, that economies continue to function, and that we work together to fight the pandemic.”

Testing and contact tracing crucially important

The heads of state and government agreed that testing and contract tracing are crucial in stemming the spread of the virus and getting and keeping the situation under control. European Council President Charles Michel called for the swift reciprocal recognition of the rapid tests that are now becoming available on the market. They could “reduce the negative impacts on freedom of movement and on our single market,” he said.

On 28 October, the European Commission presented recommendations on COVID-19 testing strategies and the use of rapid antigen tests. The EU states intend to take this as their basis for further work. To improve contact tracing Europe-wide, the countries intend to harmonise their different COVID warning apps for mobile phones. They also discussed standardising quarantine regulations.

Ensuring a Europe-wide supply of vaccines

With respect to vaccine supply too, the EU states aim to cooperate more closely. The European Commission has already signed framework agreements with a number of vaccine producers that should give the EU several million doses of vaccines.

Distributing the vaccines as soon as they become available will be a massive task, said European Council President Charles Michel. The storage and transport of the vaccine will be an exacting venture. In terms of distribution, the member states discussed giving preferential access to vaccines to certain groups, including elderly people, individuals with chronic medical conditions and health workers.