EU seeks united front to tackle medical shortages from virus

BRUSSELS (AP) – Fearing a possible shortage in masks and protective equipment to fight COVID-19, top European Union (EU) officials are urging members to put solidarity above national interests as the virus spreads quickly across the continent.

Speaking on Friday after an urgent meeting in Brussels of health ministers from the 27-country bloc, Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarcic said EU nations are entitled to restrict exports of medical equipment but warned that such decisions could compromise the EU’s ability to manage the growing COVID-19 virus crisis.

While Italy is the hardest-hit country in Europe, with 197 deaths and over 4,600 cases, more than 6,470 infections have been recorded across the bloc.

The epidemic has been spreading at a quicker pace over the past two weeks, leading the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to raise the risk of coronavirus infection from moderate to high.

“Preparedness has to be enhanced further simply because it is more probable that what we have now in Italy will happen elsewhere in Europe,” Lenarcic said.

The last time EU health ministers met, on February 13, no virus deaths had been reported in Europe. Now the EU has seen 211 deaths, with the Netherlands announcing its first death on Friday.

A sign meaning ‘We are out of stock of hydroalcoholic gel and masks’ is displayed on the doors at a pharmacy in Paris. PHOTO: AP