The EU on Wednesday introduced a new strategy to stem the spread of coronavirus during winter, especially in holiday season.
“The strategy recommends continued vigilance and caution throughout the winter period and into 2021 when the roll out of safe and effective vaccines will occur,” said a European Commission statement.
Social distancing and limiting contacts are considered crucial for the winter months, including the holiday period at the end of 2020, the statement said.
“Testing and contact tracing are essential for detecting clusters and breaking transmission. Most Member States now have national contact tracing apps. The European Federated Gateway Server (EFGS) enables cross-border tracing,” said the statement.
"Transport infrastructure must be prepared and quarantine requirements, which may take place when the epidemiological situation in the region of origin is worse than the destination, clearly communicated,” it added.
The commission also addressed the issue of health care capacity and personnel.
“Business continuity plans for healthcare settings should be put in place to make sure COVID-19 outbreaks can be managed, and access to other treatments maintained,” it said.
The commission urged member states to address psychological effects of the pandemic and pandemic fatigue by following the World Health Organization guidelines.
“The Commission stands ready to support Member States where necessary in the deployment of vaccines as per their deployment and vaccination plans,” the statement added.
Hope around the corner
Stella Kyriakides, EU commissioner for health and food safety, said: “Every 17 seconds a person loses their life due to COVID-19 in Europe. The situation may be stabilising, but it remains delicate.”
“But with vaccines on the horizon, there is also hope. All Member States must now be ready to start vaccination campaigns and roll-out vaccines as quickly as possible once a safe and effective vaccine is available,” she added.
Kyriakides said this year’s festive season will be different than any other year's and “saving lives must come before celebrations.”
Speaking after the EU health ministers' virtual meeting, Jens Spahn, the German federal minister of health, said all member states will have access to vaccines at the same time.
“The idea is to have safe and effective vaccines in the pandemic and because it's only then with that kind of procedure that we can create confidence and nothing is more important than confidence, with respect to vaccines,” said Spahn.
“Trust in vaccines is important. So, once the authorization procedures are underway we need to make sure that the appropriate quality standards are applied. But we also need to bring on board as quickly as possible all the various resources,” he added.
UK approval of vaccine
Asked about the UK’s announcement on starting vaccination in December, Spahn said: "We have to note that there are two different procedures or different approaches and the US and the UK, they are based on an emergency rapid authorization.”
“In that respect, we have preferred to have a regularly conditional procedure, using the tried and tested procedure that could lead to some difference in timing,” he added.
Also speaking on the issue, Kyriakides said the commission is doing everything possible to ensure that vaccines are developed as fast and safe as possible.
“And we cannot predict a date with certainty as delivery timelines depend on each contract and the safety evaluation. But once we have EU marketing authorization we hope that by early next year member states will be able to start vaccinating,” she added.
The UK has become the first country to allow the use of the Pfizer/BioNtech coronavirus vaccine on the public after the country’s regulator clinically approved the jab on Wednesday.
The vaccine, which provides 95% protection against COVID-19, will be rolled out as early as next week, according to a government statement.