EU seeks powers to stress test governments' pandemic plans

·2-min read
European Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides holds a news conference at EU Commission headquarters in Brussels
European Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides holds a news conference at EU Commission headquarters in Brussels

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission on Wednesday proposed an overhaul of the rules on public health which would give the EU the power to declare an health emergency and stress test national plans to tackle pandemics.

The move follows an often uncoordinated reaction by the 27 EU governments to the COVID-19 pandemic, which, mostly at the beginning of the crisis in the spring, led to competition on vital medical gear and export bans on medicines.

"To fight the COVID-19 pandemic and future health emergencies, more coordination with more efficient tools at EU level is the only way forward," President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.

Under the proposals, the EU would be able to declare an EU-level public health emergency, which would in turn trigger more coordination among EU states.

The EU would help governments prepare pandemic plans and would audit and stress test them, an EU document said.

Public health is a national competence in the EU, and states have been traditionally reluctant to give more powers to Brussels on the matter.

During the pandemic, they have applied different national measures on a series of issues, including testing policies for COVID-19 cases, quarantine rules and travel restrictions.

But they have shown a good coordination on procuring COVID-19 vaccines.

If approved by EU governments and EU lawmakers, the Commission said the proposals would be immediately applicable and could strengthen EU powers to tackle the current pandemic, in which most European countries are seeing a surge in cases.

Brussels wants to strengthen the EU public health agency, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, whose non-binding advice, such as on the length of the quarantine period after contact with an infected person, has often been ignored during the pandemic.

It also wants more power for the EU Medicines Agency to prevent risks of shortages of medicines and medical devices.

Brussels also said it would unveil by the end of next year plans for a new health authority modelled after the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which has played a vital role in procuring experimental dugs and vaccines against the coronavirus in the United States.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by Alison Williams)