EU response to coronavirus pandemic was “inadequate”, says EU Commissioner

However, the situation has improved, and this is now “not the case” explained Janez Lenarčič, Commissioner for Crisis Management.
Janez Lenarcic, EU Commissioner for Crisis Management | Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

07 Apr 2020

Janez Lenarčič, EU Commissioner for Crisis Management, has admitted there was an initial “lack of response” to Italian requests for help in controlling the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Speaking in Brussels on Tuesday, he said Italy had been “particularly struck hard” by the pandemic but “initially, there was an inadequate response from Member States for help.”

Lenarčič, however, added, “the situation has improved since and this (the lack of response) is now not the case.”


His admission comes as he announced that a team of European doctors and nurses from Romania and Norway, deployed through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, was being immediately dispatched to Milan and Bergamo to help Italian medical staff working to battle the coronavirus. Meanwhile, Austria has also offered over 3,000 litres of disinfectant to Italy.

The official told journalists that “the European Commission will coordinate and co-finance this European assistance,” at an online a press briefing.

On Monday, Italy also received a delivery of personal protective equipment coordinated through the EU and, Lenarčič said, several Member States have also sent other protective equipment such as masks, overalls and ventilators to Italy, as well as taking Italian patients for treatment in their own countries.

“I thank Romania, Norway and Austria for coming to Italy’s support in a time that is so difficult for the whole continent. This is EU solidarity in action. Our EU Emergency Response Coordination Centre is working 24/7 with all Member States to make sure help is channelled to where it’s most needed,” added Lenarčič.

"Initially, there was an inadequate response from Member States for help" Janez Lenarčič, EU Commissioner for Crisis Management

Protective equipment has, said the official, also been donated by China and Taiwan to Italy. “Things in Italy are improving, and assistance is coming. It is only be pooling resources that can we overcome this, and the true symbol of solidarity is represented by health staff who are working so tirelessly everywhere.”

He said, “Our number one priority is and remains to save as many lives as possible.”

However, according to the official, cases of coronavirus in Spain have now surpassed those in Italy, and the EU is now looking at how it will address this too.

To date, there have been just over 140,000 cases in Spain and 132,000 in Italy, although the death toll in Italy remains higher than in Spain.

Lenarčič, in a short Q&A with journalists, was also asked to comment on reports that large cargos of medical equipment had been “seized” in various parts of Europe and shipped to the U.S.

"I thank Romania, Norway and Austria for coming to Italy’s support in a time that is so difficult for the whole continent. This is EU solidarity in action" Janez Lenarčič

He said, “We are aware of such reports but there is a global scramble for personal protective equipment. This is a challenge for everyone because this virus has spread faster and further than anyone expected, resulting in a shortage of such equipment.”

Lenarčič told the briefing, “It is, therefore, not easy to arrange an orderly procurement of this equipment. This is why the Commission is trying to mitigate the impact of a situation where you have a huge imbalance between supply and demand. This is also why we have tried to stimulate the production in Europe of such equipment.”

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