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Exclusive - 'Things under control': how Europe sleepwalked into the coronavirus crisis


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Exclusive - 'Things under control': how Europe sleepwalked into the coronavirus crisis

By Francesco Guarascio

 

2020-04-01T183040Z_2_LYNXMPEG304OE_RTROPTP_4_HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS-EU-PREVENTION.JPG

FILE PHOTO: Military officers wearing face masks stand outside Duomo cathedral, closed by authorities due to a coronavirus outbreak, in Milan, Italy February 24, 2020. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo

 

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Barely a month before Europe embarked on a scramble for masks, ventilators and testing kits to fight coronavirus, governments told Brussels their healthcare systems were ready and there was no need to order more stocks, EU documents show.

 

This rosy assessment is in stark contrast to the shortages of masks and medical equipment just a few weeks later, when the European Commission estimated needs across EU states to be 10 times higher than would usually be available.

 

While the dearth of equipment is mostly down to ballooning global demand, internal and public documents seen by Reuters show European Union governments may have worsened their predicament by overestimating their response capacity.

 

"Things under control," a European Commission official said at a closed-door meeting with diplomats from member states on Feb. 5, two weeks after China locked down nearly 60 million people in Hubei province, or roughly the population of Italy.

 

"There is strong level of preparedness in member states, most have measures in place" to detect and treat COVID-19, the official said, relaying comments from national envoys, according to minutes of the meeting seen by Reuters.

 

That was only two weeks before the first victims of coronavirus in Italy, where 12,428 people have now died from COVID-19, almost four times the death toll in China were the disease first emerged.

 

Asked whether the documents seen by Reuters showed the European response had been too slow, a spokesman for the EU executive said: "As from January, the Commission offered the possibility of support to member states."

 

EU governments began to realise the gravity of the situation in March but rather than focusing on joint action many resorted to protectionist measures, raising trade barriers to hinder the export of medical equipment to their neighbours.

 

Italy still only has a fraction of the 90 million face masks its medical workers need each month, France ordered over 1 billion masks last week and manufacturers are adapting production lines to make ventilators.

 

'CAPACITIES ARE IN PLACE'

The optimistic analysis presented by the European Commission official on Feb. 5 stemmed from a series of meetings with health experts from EU member states.

 

At a meeting on Jan. 31, delegates from national health ministries told the Commission they did not need help acquiring medical equipment, according to the minutes.

 

"No countries have, as of yet, requested support to obtain additional countermeasures," the minutes showed, with only four states warning they might need protective equipment if the situation worsened in Europe. The four countries were not named.

 

On Feb. 28, a month after its first offer to help, and after urging governments to clarify their needs in at least two more meetings, the European Commission launched a joint procurement programme for face masks and other protective gear.

 

The tender on behalf of 25 member states initially received no offers, an internal document seen by Reuters showed. EU member states are now assessing bids made under a second tender but no contracts have yet been signed and deliveries are still weeks away, according to Commission estimates.

 

EU governments had assured Brussels their medical workers were well briefed on how to handle COVID-19 patients, according to documents seen by Reuters, though Italy only required medical staff to wear masks when handling suspected cases from Feb. 24.

 

Nearly 10,000 Italian health workers have been infected, or more than 9% of the cases in Italy, according to official data.

 

At an EU meeting on Feb. 4, national health experts said: "Diagnostic capacities are in place, and several countries have begun rolling out testing."

Now, EU states are facing a massive shortage of testing kits and launched a joint procurement scheme on March 18.

 

The need to jointly acquire ventilators crucial for patients with severe breathing problems only arose for the first time at a meeting of EU health experts on March 13, according to minutes of the meeting.

 

A procurement scheme was launched by the European Commission on March 17.

 

Risks that healthcare systems might exceed their capacity were considered "low to moderate" in mid-February by the EU agency for disease control, which relies on assessments by individual member states.

 

A month later, it updated its assessment to say no countries would have enough intensive care beds by mid-April.

 

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by David Clarke)

 

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-- © Copyright Reuters 2020-04-02
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Guess most of EU thought of the economical repercussions first, and that's why they waited WAY too long.

 

Now we've got the double whammy - sickness and ruined economy

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Italy told sick people to go to their hospitals. They did.

All hospitals infected. No brainer. The UK have finally woken up & opened special places as hospitals ensuring 50% of hospitals stay free of the virus.

I have suggested that Thailand prepare Muang Thong Thani Entertainment Centre as a Virus

Hospital for Bangkok It is ideal.

If not needed in the end ,,,,,,,,Great ,,,,,small price to pay

 

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It's all a matter of fact of money and investments to be prepared for diseases! No government in Europe was ready (and their population) to stock up material, have emergency plans for that kind of disease. And there is a scenario plan , about 10 years old but well, just went into the drawers as that would have cost money and noboy would have applaud to those who would have enforced to be prepared for the day X!! So we can't complain to anybidy, just to ourselfs and if we don't learn a lot of these situation we are in Europe the most stupid population!

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2 hours ago, BritManToo said:

The only mistake Europe made was letting 'diseased Chinese' come in.

Just think if Chinese were permanently confined to China we'd miss out on all the new diseases.

Maybe someone could build a big wall around the place.

The thoughts of my Thai FIL. Just blame it all on the Chinese.

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4 hours ago, natway09 said:

Italy told sick people to go to their hospitals. They did.

All hospitals infected. No brainer. The UK have finally woken up & opened special places as hospitals ensuring 50% of hospitals stay free of the virus.

I have suggested that Thailand prepare Muang Thong Thani Entertainment Centre as a Virus

Hospital for Bangkok It is ideal.

If not needed in the end ,,,,,,,,Great ,,,,,small price to pay

 

 

good idea. lots of space there.

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