‘Not a single EU country’ responded to Italian plea for help with coronavirus

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Rome’s requests for face masks and medical gear have been met with silence.

A top Italian official knocked the European Union for leaving Italy’s plea for medical assistance unanswered while the coronavirus outbreak cripples the country.

Italy’s permanent representative to the EU, Maurizio Massari, wrote an op-ed in Politico on Tuesday asking for aid from EU members. The Italian official said that while the EU has ignored Italy’s requests for aid, China has begun assisting Italy bilaterally.

“Italy, the European country struck hardest by the coronavirus, has done everything it can to contain and manage the epidemic,” Massari wrote. “We must ensure, under EU coordination, the supply of the necessary medical equipment and its redistribution among those countries and regions most in need. Today, this means Italy; tomorrow, the need could be elsewhere.”

“Italy has already asked to activate the European Union Mechanism of Civil Protection for the supply of medical equipment for individual protection,” Massari added. “But, unfortunately, not a single EU country responded to the Commission’s call. Only China responded bilaterally. Certainly, this is not a good sign of European solidarity.”

Maurizio Massari is the Italian permanent representative to the European Union.

The coronavirus crisis is not just a national crisis. It’s a European crisis, and it needs to be treated as such.

Massari stated, to ensure equity and transparency, it is crucial that the EU adopts a common approach to detecting and reporting coronavirus cases, with common guidelines for the entire bloc.

Finally, we must acknowledge that the impact of the epidemic on the economy will be heavy, particularly so for Italy (Lombardy and Veneto account for almost a third of the country’s economic activity), but also for the whole of Europe and the global economy.

Industrial supply chains, trade in goods and services and tourism have already been affected. With Europe at risk of a new recession, or worse, we must not content ourselves with damage control. We need vision and courageous economic measures.

What is the EU Civil Protection Mechanism

From the EU website it states: The overall objective of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism is to strengthen cooperation between the EU Member States and 6 Participating States in the field of civil protection, with a view to improve prevention, preparedness and response to disasters. When the scale of an emergency overwhelms the response capabilities of a country, it can request assistance via the Mechanism. Through the Mechanism, the European Commission plays a key role in coordinating the response to disasters in Europe and beyond and contributes to at least 75% of the transport and/or operational costs of deployments.Why is this important?

Disasters know no borders and can hit one or several countries simultaneously without warning. Having a well-coordinated joint response means that when national authorities are overwhelmed, they have one point of contact, rather than multiple to deal with. A joint approach further helps to pool expertise and capacities of first responders, avoids duplication of relief efforts and ensures that assistance meets the needs of those affected.

By pooling together civil protection capacities and capabilities, it allows for a stronger and more coherent collective response. In addition to the EU Member States, there are currently 6 Participating States to the Mechanism (Iceland, Norway, Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Turkey). Since its inception in 2001, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism has responded to over 330 requests for assistance inside and outside the EU.

The Mechanism also helps to coordinate disaster preparedness and prevention activities of national authorities and contributes to the exchange of best practices. This facilitates the continuous development of higher common standards enabling teams to better understand different approaches and work interchangeably when a disaster strikes.

It is apparent that Italy qualifies for the EU help so why isn’t it coming

Police officers and soldiers check passengers leaving from Milan main train station, Italy, Monday, March 9, 2020. Italy took a page from China’s playbook Sunday, attempting to lock down 16 million people — more than a quarter of its population — for nearly a month to halt the relentless march of the new coronavirus across Europe.

Italian doctors are scrambling to make room for an influx of thousands of coronavirus patients. The country has over 12,000 confirmed cases of the virus, with most of those concentrated in the northern region of Lombardy. Italy had reported over 1000 deaths from the coronavirus by Thursday afternoon, the most of any country other than China, where the disease originated.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced an emergency lockdown of the region last week and on Monday expanded the lockdown to all of Italy. Most travel across the country is banned, as are sporting events and other public gatherings. On Wednesday, Conte announced that all businesses except for pharmacies and grocery stores must close.

Coronavirus has claimed 1,016 lives in Italy, officials say, but Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio says he hopes his country will be the first in Europe to get over the emergency.

Another 188 people died over 24 hours.

However, Mr Di Maio told the BBC the measures imposed in the first area of the outbreak were proving effective.

Two weeks after the first 10 towns in northern Italy were declared a “red zone” and put under lockdown, he said they had no new infections.

This then served as a model to tighten measures across the country.

Italy has now seen 1,016 deaths, amid a total number 15,113 infections. Civil protection officials say 1,258 have recovered, although the number of cases has gone up by 2,651 since Wednesday. Italy is the world’s worst-hit country after China.

“Italy was the first nation in Europe to be affected so badly,” said Mr Di Maio. “But I hope it also means that Italy is the first one to leave the emergency behind.”

Movement has been limited to urgent medical or professional need. All shops are now closed, except for pharmacies and those stocking food; companies have been ordered to shut non-essential departments; a wide range of venues – from theatres to schools and hairdressers to museums – are closed.

“Our grandfathers were drafted to go to war; we’re being asked to stay at home,” said Mr Di Maio.

“If a doctor and a nurse can work for 24 hours non-stop, we can give up leaving our own home. The huge majority of citizens are respecting the rules. Those who aren’t will face sanctions: either fines or criminal charges.”

All travel in the country is now banned except in cases of emergency, and all sporting events have been canceled. Additionally, all public gatherings of any kind are now prohibited.

“There won’t be just a red zone,” Conte said in reference to areas of the country already in lockdown. “There will be Italy.”

The shutdown will extend school closures across the country of 60 million people until April 3. Italy announced 1,807 new cases on Monday, overtaking South Korea for the country with the most infections after China, where the flu-like virus originated. Conte also announced bans on young people gathering to drink at night.

“This nightlife … we can’t allow this anymore,” Conte said. All restaurants, bars, and cafes nationwide will have to close at dusk under the new lockdown.

Inmates at more than two dozen prisons across Italy rioted on Sunday after the country placed new restrictions on jail visits during its massive coronavirus outbreak.


Update: New EU-wide help in relaxing of state aid restrictions …

Economy’s first

EU President Ursula von der Leyen has condemned some EU countries for introducing blanket travel bans and border closures in response to coronavirus, saying: ‘The single market has to function’.

Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are among the nations forbidding entry to anyone arriving from Italy or without a certificate of health.

“It is not good when member states take unilateral action because it always causes a domino effect and that prevents urgently-needed medical equipment from reaching patients and hospitals,” she said.

“It amounts to the reintroduction of internal borders at a time when solidarity between member states is needed.”

She made the comments as she announced new EU-wide guidelines on health checks at border crossings and the suspension of rules forbidding state aid as part of a €37 billion rescue package to fight the impact of COVID-19.

The pandemic is “a major shock” for EU’s economy, she said, “but we must work together to ensure it is as short and as limited as possible.”

Von der Leyen said she understood the pressure on countries to protect themselves from the spread of coronavirus.

“Certain controls may be justified but general travel bans are not seen as being the most effective by the WHO,” she said. “Moreover, they have a strong social and economic impact, they disrupt people’s lives and business across the borders concerned. Any measure that is taken must be proportionate.”

She said: “I want to be very clear — the single market has to function.”

last updated: 13/03/2020 – 15:32

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