EU leaders urged to aid transfer of Covid patients between member states

The European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, has asked EU leaders to help Brussels map intensive care bed capacity to allow the transfer of coronavirus patients from overrun hospitals across Europe amid a rise in infection in every member state.

Belgium is expected to run out of intensive care beds within two weeks given the spiralling rate of infection, while the Netherlands has already started airlifting patients from pandemic hotspots to Germany. Almost half of France’s intensive care unit capacity has been taken up by new coronavirus cases.

The European commission president said she did not want to engage in a “blame game” but that the “very serious” situation showed that “obviously the [national] exit strategies were partly too fast and measures were relaxed too soon” during the summer.

The former German minister said reasserting control over the infection rate and keeping down the death rate would require far closer coordination between governments, including greater data-sharing to help in the movement of patients and medical staff.

Von der Leyen said she would raise the issue of mapping hospital capacity when she joins the 27 heads of state and government at a video-conference summit being held on Thursday.

Just five member states have been sharing data on the EU Covid-19 Data Platform. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) needed up-to-date information to assist the countries worst-hit by the pandemic, she said.

“It’s important that we have data at a European level so that there’s transparency for everybody in Europe”, Von der Leyen said. “So that if there’s ever more pressure on beds in intensive care units then we can use those resources in the best way possible, and improve coordination between member states and moving patients from one intensive care unit to another which still has capacity … We’ve all learned that just taking a national approach very quickly reaches its limits.”

“I think this year’s Christmas will be a different Christmas,” Von der Leyen added during a press conference in Brussels. “A lot depends on our behaviour from the individual — each individual on the regional level, on the member state level and on the European level — how we pull through this together in the next weeks. But it will be a different Christmas.”

The EU’s executive branch has also called on each of the member states to submit their Covid-19 testing strategies by mid-November. The commission wants test results to be recognised by all member states and for joint procurement of rapid antigen tests.

Von der Leyen said she wanted national coronavirus apps running in 19 member states to be connected through a “European Federation gateway service” to allow comprehensive tracing. Germany, Ireland and Italy are currently linked through the service and five more countries are expected to join shortly.

“We are deeply into the second wave,” Von der Leyen said. “Now more and more people are getting infected … More people will end up having to be hospitalised with the virus, our expectations are that these figures will increase further over the next two to three weeks, and they’ll increase rapidly.”


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