EU to unveil strategy to exit virus lockdown

Monitoring Desk

BRUSSELS: The European Commission will on Wednesday unveil a plan for the bloc to ease out of a virus lockdown that has dealt a body blow to the economies of EU members, a spokesman said.

The strategy, to be presented by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen after a videoconference with relevant commissioners, will come after some EU countries announced they were already planning to relax measures.

Both Austria and Denmark have said they will start phasing out restrictions from next week, while still keeping in place social-distancing and frequent handwashing rules in place.

The European Commission will set out guidelines for a bloc-wide strategy, spokesman Eric Mamer told a videolink news conference.

“This is because some member states are beginning to look towards the first steps in terms of moving away from the measures in the weeks to come. And we feel it’s very important this be done in a coordinated fashion,” he said.

The Commission proposal will be made ahead of a video conference of the EU’s national leaders later this month.

Mamer added that Austria and Denmark had informed the Commission and all member states of their decisions.

“We understand that these strategies are very gradual will be implemented step-by-step, which is indeed one important element that we will certainly be highlighting as well,” he said.

The European Union and neighboring countries including Britain and Norway have recorded more than 600,000 cases of COVID-19, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Officials have reported more than 51,000 deaths, most of them in Italy and Spain.

Lockdowns have been introduced to varying degrees across the bloc, ranging from enforced stay-at-home orders in places like northern Italy to far less restrictive advice in Sweden, where people have been allowed to gather in small numbers and freely move about.

The European Commission has struggled to arrange a common EU approach, reflecting its lack of say over member states’ health and policing policies.

But it has managed to soften some strict border measures by states such as Austria and Poland that for a time badly crimped the flow of road freight.

EU leaders are becoming increasingly alarmed at the economic damage wreaked by the lockdowns.

France has warned it is facing the deepest recession since the end of World War II.

At the leaders’ last video conference on March 10, one participant said: “We have just slid into lockdown. We really need to find a way to get out of it.”

But the conundrum they face is that there is still no effective treatment or vaccine for the novel coronavirus. That, one EU official said, poses a problem if member states start to end their lockdowns “willy-nilly.” (AFP)