BRUSSELS — European Union leaders are set to hold Tuesday a summit via video-conference on efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus, which has now infected more than 50,000 people across Europe, and claimed more than 2,000 lives.
With Italy reporting the most virus cases and deaths anywhere in the world except China, neighbouring countries like Austria and Slovenia have moved to slow traffic. But other EU nations, including Germany, Poland, Slovakia and Cyprus have also introduced restrictions.
The different approaches are raising concerns that vital medical equipment may be blocked.
European Council President Charles Michel, who chairs summits of prime ministers and presidents from the 27 EU nations, tweeted Monday that he was calling what will be the second meeting of its kind in two weeks.
“Containing the spread of the virus, providing sufficient medical equipment, boosting research and limiting the economic fallout is key,” Michel said. Italy and Spain were in lockdown Monday. Schools, restaurants and bars were closed in many countries.
Michel’s call for the summit, to be held Tuesday, came shortly after he held talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Macron’s office said their call allowed them to make decisions about measures to take at the external borders of the EU which will be announced in the coming hours. No details were provided.
The EU is urging its member countries to put common health screening procedures in place at their borders to limit the spread of the virus, but not to block the transport of important medical equipment.
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control figures released Monday show that 51,771 coronavirus cases have been reported in Europe, most in Italy, Spain, France and Germany. A total of 2 ,316 people have died, the overwhelming majority in Italy.
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
“Essential goods and medicines must be able to cross borders as smoothly as possible. This is a time for solidarity and co-operation,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides tweeted, after hosting a separate virtual meeting of the bloc’s health ministers Monday.
The ministers agreed to start purchasing together protective equipment, testing kits and ventilators to help those member countries hardest hit, Kyriakides said.
EU finance ministers were also set to hold coronavirus talks by computer later Monday, as the disease and the efforts to combat it take their toll on the bloc’s economy.
By The Associated Press