European Council President Charles Michel has urged EU states to introduce common rules to test for Covid-19 and track its spread as a number of countries weigh up tougher coronavirus restrictions.
Mr Michel, who will chair an extraordinary summit of EU leaders on Thursday evening focused on the pandemic, also urged them to prepare for logistical challenges likely to plague the rollout of any vaccines, which he said could come by early next year.
Well over six million people have contracted the virus in the EU member countries plus the UK, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. More than 210,000 people have died.
France’s president Emmanuel Macron was to address the nation on Wednesday as the country braces for a possible lockdown to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed as Belgium, which has Europe’s highest infection rate, considers a similar move.
Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel is pressing governors of the country’s 16 states to agree to a partial lockdown that could include further restrictions on public gatherings and the closure of bars and restaurants.
“We are in a storm. We are all in the same boat. And in this storm, we must keep cool heads,” Mr Michel told French radio station RTL.
Mr Michel said nations must co-ordinate their approval of new coronavirus tests and of tracing systems aimed at halting its spread.
He said he hoped that EU leaders “understand that if they each put in place their own national testing strategy without co-ordinating at a European level, without mutual recognition, then we will find ourselves back in the battles of the past”.
As the pandemic spread through Europe in late February and March, countries bickered over access to face masks and medical equipment, while border restrictions introduced without consultation caused major traffic jams, slowing the distribution of medicines and material.
“In the end all Europeans lose out,” Mr Michel said.
A high-ranking official in the Spanish foreign ministry said on Wednesday that several European countries, including Spain, are pushing for a system of mandatory tests ahead of traveling within the region as a way to avoid any new border closures inside Europe’s free travel area.
The programme, if approved, would also involve random tests on arrivals.
Meanwhile, Mr Michel urged the leaders to prepare for prioritising vaccinations as not everyone can be vaccinated at once, and some vaccines might be single dose, while others could require two doses or more.
“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.