16 ways in which Europeans are fighting the coronavirus — with the EU’s help
Nobody was fully prepared for the coronavirus outbreak, but Europe is now stepping up, and citizens across the continent are doing their part: from healthcare professionals to farmers, lorry drivers and supermarket workers, not to mention the millions of Europeans who are simply staying at home and respecting social distancing measures to keep us all safe.
And what is the EU doing in this battle, you might be asking? We are active on all fronts to save lives and protect livelihoods. Below you’ll find 16 great examples of EU solidarity in the face of this threat. We are #StrongerTogether.
1. We are helping medical teams cross borders to offer support where it is most needed.
The EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre helped send a medical team from Romania 🇷🇴 to support healthcare workers in Italy. The team led by Major Joe Stroescu comprised 3 nurses and 11 doctors — lung specialists, anaesthetists and experts in intensive care and emergency medicine. For more than two weeks, they worked side by side with Italian specialists to save lives in the towns of Lecco and Merate in Lombardy 🇮🇹.
We couldn’t say it better than Joe Stroescu himself: “It doesn’t matter where we come from. In life it matters what we do, and in these difficult moments, it is important to show solidarity and help each other, because only together can we win this battle. This act of European solidarity has saved lives and shows the true nature of the EU family.”
2. We are putting Europe’s best scientific minds together to fight the spread of the virus and prepare for future pandemics.
Professor Marion Koopmans has dedicated her career to understanding viruses. As head of the viroscience department at Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, Netherlands 🇳🇱, she leads an EU-backed project developing techniques to spot and track new infectious diseases.
Prof. Koopmans expects outbreaks like the one we’re experiencing to become more common in the future because of the growing human population, changing climate and land use change. That’s why her work focuses on getting us better prepared. Her team is now translating the virus’ genetic data into tools we can use against it; from rapid diagnostic tests, to mapping the spread of the virus and levels of immunity in the population.
Prof. Koopmans is also one of the experts advising Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Europe-wide action to contain and manage the coronavirus pandemic.
You can read more information about Prof. Koopmans’ groundbreaking work here.
3. We are funding cutting-edge research to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Thanks to EU support, Professor Maarten Merkx from the Technical University of Eindhoven 🇳🇱 has developed a new type of rapid test which detects virus antibodies in the blood via light-emitting proteins. He is now working to apply the same method to the coronavirus.
Rapid antibody testing is crucial for those who work with vulnerable people, but also for all of us to help us make informed decisions on whether to visit our elderly parents or return to work.
Professor Merkx’ work is just one example of a whole range of different research projects the EU is funding to help us overcome the coronavirus.
4. We are translating our knowledge and skills into practical applications to help communities tackle the crisis
The coronavirus pandemic has hit Europeans everywhere. We’re all doing our bit to overcome the crisis — EU staff too! At the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Italy 🇮🇹, Antonio Piscia usually engineers specialist parts for scientists. With labs closed due to the lockdown, he has turned his hand to making respiratory valves with a 3D printer. Antonio’s colleague, Francesco Scaffidi-Argentina, delivered the first 22 of these life-saving valves to a hospital in Varese on 15 April.
Staff in other JRC sites in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands are also donating medical equipment and other supplies to their local communities and health services.
5. We are supporting European farmers during the lockdown.
Small businesses across Europe have been hit hard by the coronavirus, but young farmers like Jannes Maes are particularly vulnerable to the economic shock. EU action is helping them to stay in business and keep food on our tables throughout the crisis.
The EU has ensured that essential produce can continue to be transported across Europe’s borders despite national lockdown restrictions. We have also eased regulations on state aid and facilitated bank lending so that farmers can access financial support more easily.
Jannes is the President of CEJA, the European Council for Young Farmers. They are counting on continued European support to address the economic impact of the crisis and adapt to the challenge of climate change in the months and years ahead.
6. We make sure that much needed goods can still reach Europeans while border closures are in place.
On 23 March, the European Commission asked EU countries to put in place ‘green lanes’ at their borders, allowing all freight vehicles to pass checks and health screenings within 15 minutes. The Commission also gave advice on how to protect transport workers from the coronavirus.
Fred 🇳🇱 is one of the thousands of hauliers across Europe, whose hard work as a lorry driver is keeping our shops stocked and vital medical equipment in circulation.
7. We are bringing together medical experts from across Europe to share the best advice.
Before the virus struck, Professor Alexis Arzimanoglou was leading ERN EpiCARE, one of the EU’s 24 European Reference Networks. These groups of medical specialists meet online to decide the best way to treat patients. EpiCARE, for instance, looks at cases of rare and complex epilepsies.
Drawing on the good collaboration thus established, Prof. Arzimanoglou and his team are now busy advising doctors around Europe and beyond on how to handle anti-seizure drugs in case a patient with epilepsy also requires antiviral treatment against the coronavirus. Moreover, based on the network model, the EU has also set up the COVID-19 Clinical Management Support System, a help desk that creates rapid connections across Europe between all healthcare professionals and hospitals involved in the fight against the coronavirus.
8. We are helping vulnerable populations beyond our borders to fight back against the coronavirus.
It goes without saying that viruses do not stop at borders, but the coronavirus has the potential to inflict much more damage where sanitary conditions are poor and healthcare systems are lacking.
Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh 🇧🇩, is the world’s largest refugee camp with over 850,000 people from the Rohingya community living in cramped conditions. A joint project between the EU 🇪🇺 and UNICEF 🇺🇳 is helping them fight back against the disease by providing water, sanitation and hygiene services.
More than 2,500 centres with hand-washing stations were set up, teaching hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children the importance of hand hygiene. These lessons have the potential to save thousands of lives during this crisis.
9. We are stepping up to answer your consumer questions related to the coronavirus
European Consumer Centres across the EU advise citizens on their consumer rights in cross-border shopping in the single market. With the coronavirus outbreak, they have seen a huge spike in inquiries, with 50% more calls than usual. Most relate to the impact of coronavirus on services or goods such as flights and train tickets, hotels, B&Bs and package holidays.
The centres are also warning consumers about fraudulent medicines, fake masks and sanitisers, and other scams. They inform national authorities whenever such scams are detected.
Karin Basenach is the head of the consumer centre in Luxembourg 🇱🇺. “In these difficult times with coronavirus, our lawyers are there for you as usual, and are happy to offer you advice free of charge.”
10. We are making state aid rules more flexible to help business owners navigate these troubled waters.
On 13 March, the Spanish region of Murcia 🇪🇸 closed its borders to try and contain the spread of the coronavirus. With that very necessary step came a complete and sudden halt to the tourist industry on which the area thrives. As the owner of a diving centre, Isabel Laguardia was particularly hard hit. She had to close the centre and put on hold all her plans to employ new staff.
The EU acted quickly to help protect small businesses like Isabel’s. New legislation made the rules on state aid more flexible. The Spanish government can now offer businesses financial support more quickly so they can avoid laying off staff.
It’s still hard for Isabel — the future is uncertain and the state aid doesn’t cover all her costs, but she’s grateful for the help in these troubling times.
11. We are activating our crisis response team to bring home stranded Europeans around the world.
We have all come to learn that the best place to be during this crisis is at home, but Caroline de Boisset found herself stranded abroad in mid March. Originally from France 🇫🇷 and Luxembourg 🇱🇺, she had been working at the Senegal Office of LuxDev, Luxembourg’s national aid and development agency. Similarly, young designer and artist Awa Seck found herself unable to get back to Brussels from Senegal 🇸🇳 when the virus struck and the decision was made to close European airspace.
That’s where the EU stepped in. The European Emergency Response Coordination Centre organised flights back to Europe so that both Caroline and Awa could get back home safe. In total the EU has so far helped some 60,000 European citizens return home during the crisis.
12. We are helping young people around Europe to contribute to society through the European Solidarity Corps, now more than ever.
18-year-old Laurenz Aupperle from Germany 🇩🇪 is one of them. Since September last year, he’s been volunteering with the European Solidarity Corps in France 🇫🇷. However, the coronavirus left him no choice but to return home to Germany.
But this hasn’t stopped him. Laurenz and five fellow volunteers from all over Europe are now launching an online project called La Semaine de l’Europe or Europe Week to encourage people to learn more about the EU and our diverse cultures. “Citizens don’t know how they benefit from the EU, and how they can contribute as a member of it. This is what we aim to change. We want to contribute to building solidarity in Europe, solidarity much needed in tough periods like the one we’re going through.”
Check out @semaine.europe.flers on Instagram for more information about Laurenz’s project.
13. We have dropped customs duties and VAT on imported medical equipment so it’s easier for European doctors and nurses to get the kit they need to treat patients.
Across the EU now, vital supplies such as testing kits and ventilators can clear customs as a priority. On this cloudy morning in Poland 🇵🇱, customs officers are working to ensure the goods can enter the country quickly. The time and money saved through these measures is saving lives.
14) We are supporting food banks across Europe so that those in need don’t go hungry.
Due to the lockdown, many people have suddenly lost their job or had their hours cut, and so find themselves in a precarious financial position.
The European Food Banks Federation (FEBA) works with food banks in 29 European countries to prevent food loss and waste, and to feed the most deprived in Europe. In 2019 alone, the banks distributed food to 9.5 million people. During the pandemic, food banks around Europe face increased demand, a shortage of volunteers, and a drop in funds. In Italy 🇮🇹, where Maria Russo volunteers for Banco Alimentare, they have seen an increase of 20% in demand for food, with surges of up to 40% in some regions such as Campania.
Today more than ever, food banks are a lifeline to charities and those most in need. That’s why FEBA, with EU support, has launched a Social Emergency Fund to keep food banks open both now and after the pandemic subsides, but the economic shock will still be felt.
15. We are working at the EU’s frontiers to ensure border regions are well served by emergency medical services.
The coronavirus knows no borders, but nor does the huge effort required to fight it. In the region around the borders of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine, the EU-funded RESCUE project has helped deliver ambulances and ventilators to hospitals so that doctors can fight the coronavirus pandemic at the EU’s periphery.
Piotr Gozdek, in charge of Internal Medicine and Cardiology at a health centre in Tomaszów Lubelski 🇵🇱, explains:
“As we are close neighbours, our patients, no matter which side of the border they are from, can count on a higher quality of healthcare. The contacts between hospitals allow us to exchange experiences in situations of massive health crises, of which the SARS-Cov2 pandemic is undoubtedly one.”
16. We are helping vulnerable and isolated communities across Europe fight the coronavirus.
The EU-funded ROMACT programme is supplying 15,000 people from the Roma community with food and hygiene products in Bulgaria and Romania. The volunteers are also informing people in over 30 different towns about how to stay safe and access emergency support.
Shenay Andreeva 🇧🇬 from ROMACT Bulgaria is part of the community group helping distribute the supplies to those who need them most in these challenging times.