TALLINN - Two days ahead of the meeting of European leaders on a coordinated response to the COVID-19 crisis, the European Commission on Tuesday set out a number of actions needed to step up the fight against the pandemic.
In a communication adopted on Tuesday, it calls on member states to accelerate the roll-out of vaccination across the EU: by March 2021, at least 80 percent of people over the age of 80, and 80 percent of health and social care professionals in every member state should be vaccinated. And by summer 2021, member states should have vaccinated a minimum of 70 percent of the adult population.
The Commission also calls on member states to continue to apply physical distancing, limit social contacts, fight disinformation, coordinate travel restrictions, ramp up testing, and increase contact tracing and genome sequencing to face up to the risk from new variants of the virus. As recent weeks have seen an upward trend in case numbers, more needs to be done to support healthcare systems and to address "COVID-fatigue" in the coming months, from accelerating vaccination across the board, helping our partners in the Western Balkans, the southern and eastern neighborhood and in Africa.
"Vaccination is essential to get out of this crisis. We have already secured enough vaccines for the entire population of the European Union. Now we need to accelerate the delivery and speed up vaccination. Our aim is to have 70 percent of our adult population vaccinated by summer. That could be a turning point in our fight against this virus. However, we will only end this pandemic when everyone in the world has access to vaccines. We will step up our efforts to help secure vaccines for our neighbors and partners worldwide," President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said.
By March 2021, at least 80 percent of people over the age of 80, and 80 percent of health and social care professionals in every member state, should be vaccinated. By summer 2021, member states should have vaccinated 70 percent of the entire adult population. The Commission, member states and the European Medicines Agency /EMA) will work with companies to use the EU's potential for increased vaccine manufacturing capacity to the fullest. The Commission is working with member states on vaccination certificates, in full compliance with EU data protection law, which can support the continuity of care. A common approach is to be agreed by the end of January 2021 to allow member states' certificates to be rapidly useable in health systems across the EU and beyond.
Member states should update their testing strategies to account for new variants and expand the use of rapid antigen tests. Member states should urgently increase genome sequencing to at least 5 percent and preferably 10 percent of positive test results. At present, many member states are testing under 1 percent of samples, which is not enough to identify the progression of the variants or detect any new ones.
Measures should be applied to further reduce the risk of transmission linked to the means of travel, such as hygiene and distancing measures in vehicles and terminuses. All non-essential travel should be strongly discouraged until the epidemiological situation has considerably improved. Proportionate travel restrictions, including testing of travelers, should be maintained for those travelling from areas with a higher incidence of variants of concern.
To ensure early access to vaccines, the Commission is to set up a Team Europe mechanism to structure the provision of vaccines shared by member states with partner countries. This should allow for sharing with partner countries access to some of the 2.3 billion doses secured through the EU's vaccines strategy, paying special attention to the Western Balkans, the EU's eastern and southern neighborhood and Africa. The European Commission and member states should continue supporting COVAX, including through early access to vaccines. Team Europe has already mobilized 853 million euros in support of COVAX, making the EU one of COVAX's biggest donors.