BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – OCTOBER 18: President of European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen arrives at European Parliament on October 18, 2019 in Brussels, Belgium.
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The European Union (EU) has urged countries to adopt a gradual and targeted approach to lifting lockdown measures, with new cases across the continent finally slowing.
In guidance published Wednesday, the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, instructed countries to take gradual actions, relaxing restrictions in stages and allowing time between each action to measure the impact. The advice echoes that released on Tuesday by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Widespread lockdown measures have been implemented across much of the EU in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus, including the closure of non-essential businesses, schools and borders.
As of Wednesday afternoon, almost 2 million cases of the virus have been confirmed worldwide, resulting in more than 128,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Some EU countries have been hit particularly hard: namely, Italy and Spain which have reported over 21,000 and 18,500 deaths respectively.
The Commission’s roadmap said decisions to lift lockdowns should arise out of epidemiological proof of a sustained slowdown of the virus, sufficient health system and monitoring capacity.
Borders, gatherings and a return to the workplace
General measures currently in place should progressively be replaced by more targeted actions, prioritizing protection for the most vulnerable, the EC recommended, and internal border controls should be lifted in a coordinated manner.
“Responsible planning on the ground, wisely balancing the interests of protection of public health with those of the functioning of our societies, needs a solid foundation,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement Wednesday.
Travel restrictions and border controls should be removed once the border regions’ epidemiological situation converges sufficiently, according to the bloc’s roadmap. Borders with countries outside the EU should be reopened in a second stage and take account of the spread of the virus elsewhere.
The reopening of economic activity should also be phased in by the nature of jobs and their economic importance, the report said, stressing that “the entire population should not return to the workplace at the same time.” While gatherings of people should be progressively permitted, taking into account particular activities and their importance.
It also urged EU member states to establish a common framework for testing, data gathering and increasing the capacity of national health care systems.
‘Learn to live with this virus’
The Commission has vowed to develop a recovery plan, based on a revamped proposal for the next long-term EU budget and the updated Commission Work Programme for 2020.
“We know that this road will be long and gradual and that the consequences of this unprecedented health crisis will be long lasting,” Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides said in a statement Wednesday.
“Until effective treatments and a vaccine are found, we will have to learn to live with this virus. But Europe will be back on its feet, together and united.”
– CNBC’s Silvia Amaro contributed to this report.