EU Chief self-isolates as virus makes its mark at a summit

BRUSSELS (AP) — As a fresh wave of the coronavirus sweeps across much of Europe, the reality of the disease struck a summit of European Union (EU) leaders on Thursday when one of the 27-nation bloc’s top officials abandoned the meeting to go into self-imposed quarantine.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen left the summit venue in Brussels shortly after the meeting began because one of her close staffers tested positive for COVID-19.

“I myself have tested negative,” von der Leyen, a doctor by training, tweeted. “However, as a precaution I am immediately leaving the European Council to go into self-isolation.”

In its latest update on Thursday, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said that over 4.4 million cases of the virus have been reported in the 27 EU nations, including Britain, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland since the pandemic began. More than 198,000 people have died. Several nations are tightening preventive measures.

Images from inside the venue, which is off limits to reporters, showed von der Leyen mingling with several other heads of government and officials, including the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Portugal and the Netherlands, and the President of the European Parliament.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyenat the European Council building in Brussels. PHOTO: AP

Like the others, she mostly wore a mask except when sitting, and appeared to be observing adequate social distancing. The sprawling summit round table was generously spaced, and a few leaders could be seen washing their hands with gel as they entered. The usual physical greetings were replaced by elbow bumps.

French President Emmanuel Macron notably engaged in a close-contact talk with Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who is also representing Poland because its Premier, Mateusz Morawiecki is under quarantine after coming into contact with a coronavirus-infected bodyguard. A first test showed Morawiecki was not infected. He is expected to take another test.