Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Europe was ‘sleepwalking’ before Covid-19

Europe was 'sleepwalking' before Covid-19 2
Europe was 'sleepwalking' before Covid-19 2

`Everything is under control,` a European Commission (EU) official said in a closed meeting with diplomats from member states on February 5, two weeks after China imposed a curb.

But this `rosy` assessment stands in stark contrast to the shortages of masks and medical equipment just weeks later, when the EU estimated member states’ demand was 10 times the normal supply.

Doctors leave an intensive care tent of a field hospital in Lombardy, Italy on April 2.

Internal and public documents seen by Reuters show that EU governments may have `shot themselves in the foot` by overestimating their capacity to deal with Covid-19.

`Member states are well prepared, most of them have measures to detect and deal with Covid-19,` the EU official said in Brussels, according to the minutes of the meeting on February 5.

Asked whether the documents showed Europe’s response was too slow, an EU spokesman said: `Since January, the commission has been suggesting support for member states.`

By March, EU countries began to realize the severity of the situation, but instead of focusing on joint action, many countries used protectionist measures and erected trade barriers to block exports.

Italy needs 90 million masks for medical staff every month, but they only have a small portion of that number.

The overly optimistic assessment that EU officials gave on February 5 came from a series of meetings with medical experts from member states.

During the January 31 meeting, delegates from the countries’ Ministries of Health told the EU that they did not need additional support for medical equipment.

On February 28, a month after the first offer of help and after urging governments to clarify the need in at least two more meetings, the European Commission initiated a joint procurement program for masks and supplies.

Countries told the EU that their medical staff were given very clear instructions on how to handle Covid-19 patients, although Italy has only required medical staff to wear masks when receiving suspected cases since April

At an EU meeting on February 4, medical experts from different countries said: `We have enough capacity to diagnose the disease, some countries have begun to deploy testing.`

On March 13, EU medical experts first mentioned the need to jointly purchase ventilators for critically ill patients.

In mid-February, based on the assessment of each member state, the EU disease control agency assessed the risk of the health system being overloaded as `low to moderate`.

Experts believe that a lack of experience in dealing with epidemics and complacency in the early stages are the reasons why Europe, which has the world’s leading health system, is struggling against Covid-19.

Stacey Mearns, of the International Rescue Committee, said a few weeks ago, no one could have imagined the desperate situation unfolding across Europe – doctors and nurses begging for protective gear, ice skating rinks disappearing.

`European countries miscalculated their ability to prevent nCoV,` Mearns said.

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