It was announced on Monday that until April 3 Italians will only be allowed to leave their homes for urgent health and professional reasons.
Schools and universities, as well as public venues including cinemas, theatres and gyms, will remain closed. Professional sports events, including Serie A football matches, are also suspended.
At a press conference, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the unprecedented measures would limit movement for 60 million Italians.
“We have no time to adapt; numbers tell us we have a spike in infections, people in intensive care and deaths. Our habits must change right now,” Conte said.
Following the Italian announcement, MEPs in Brussels held a debate with the European Commission and the Croatian presidency of the EU, assessing EU and national efforts to contain the virus from spreading.
This included the role of the new EU Coronavirus response team, which coordinates with Member States to share information, assess needs and ensure a coherent, EU-wide response.
“We do not need to panic but we do need to be decisive in our response. Let’s remember that this is not a national issue” Manfred Weber, EPP Group Chair
Parliament’s group leaders decided on Monday that the plenary this week will be reduced effectively to a single session which concludes later today.
Last week’s Strasbourg plenary had already been moved to Brussels. After today, most if not all parliamentary activities will effectively come to a standstill until further notice.
Opening the Coronavirus debate, EPP leader Manfred Weber said, “We must look at our dependency on obtaining drugs from China. We do not need to panic but we do need to be decisive in our response. Let’s remember that this is not a national issue.”
He called for unified European standards on how to deal with public events or flights to and from Coronavirus-affected regions; more money to fund research for vaccination and possible treatment against the virus; economic stimulus to counter the “economic disaster” caused by the virus and a “new efforts to bring medicine production back to Europe.”
Socialist leader Iratxe Garcia told the debate, “There is no doubt these are extraordinary times and this is causing uncertainty and concern among citizens. That is why we must send a message of calm and caution and any steps by the EU or Member States must be evidence-based.”
“There is no doubt these are extraordinary times and this is causing uncertainty and concern among citizens. That is why we must send a message of calm and caution” Iratxe Garcia, S&D leader
“Some Member States have been harder hit than others and are taking tough decisions. But we must be constructive in overcoming these difficulties and equip ourselves with the tools to overcome this crisis.”
The Spanish deputy added, “Member States must show a proportionate response to this crisis. They need to take containment measures and introduce emergency plans.”
“We also have to try and ease the economic blow this crisis will bring with it so we have to take fiscal and tax steps to protect jobs. But one thing I have to stress is that we must reject any hate crime or racist attacks on Chinese people. This cannot be tolerated.”
Further comment came from Belgian MEP Frederique Ries, of the RE group, who said, “We must show an example but we must not just give up. The virus may be hogging the media and people may ask what the added value is of a debate like this today in Parliament. But we have to beware of psychosis and target what is needed. We also have to work on communication, the first weapon against fake news.”
She added, “This is the fourth epidemic in 20 years and Europe must plan better for these things.”
“We must also learn some lessons from all this, including strengthening health systems for emergency situations and social systems that enable people to take sick leave if they are unwell. This is not possible if only paid by the hour” Ska Keller, Greens co-leader
Silvia Sardone, of the ID group, compared the outbreak to a “war” but said she was “ashamed of an absent Europe which is lagging behind the rest of the world.”
She added, “Some countries have done sampling and are being transparent but others have done nothing. Some countries have been abandoned, like Italy, and prevented from getting protective masks. Yet Eurocrats, instead of looking at the virus, are looking at other issues first. We have been talking about this for a month but nothing has happened.”
Greens joint leader Ska Keller thanked health workers for the work they are doing to contain the spread of the virus, adding, “but we also need to look at the wider impact on health systems and the fact that other problems that might get worse.”
“We must also learn some lessons from all this, including strengthening health systems for emergency situations and social systems that enable people to take sick leave if they are unwell. This is not possible if only paid by the hour.”
“It is not a good idea either to leave the production of vital goods such as drugs to one country alone. We must listen to the experts and it is also up to us to draw lessons from this. We need to work together. Exclusion and discrimination is no use.”
“Please do not compare this with flu because this is very different and the danger is that the health systems will be overloaded. We must do all we can to contain and step up measures to tackle this” Petra De Sutter, Greens MEP
Joanna Kopcinska, of the ECR group, said, “There has been a drastic cut in cases in China but does that mean drastic measures adopted by China have been effective? Could the EU provide additional measures from the EU Solidarity Fund?”
Manon Aubry, of the GUE/NGL group, said, “We have been left vulnerable and exposed to a health crisis and doctors are being forced to choose between two patients. The stock market is in panic mode so we need to stand united and this needs to continue into the future.”
Piernicola Pedicini, an Italian MEP, said, ”This is a total crisis and we need to do bold things yet the EU just talks about flexibility.”
Petra de Sutter, a Belgian Greens MEP, told the debate, “We should not panic but this will have a direct impact on health systems and also will have economic and social consequences if we do not act.”
“Please do not compare this with flu because this is very different and the danger is that the health systems will be overloaded. We must do all we can to contain and step up measures to tackle this.”
Peter Liese, a German EPP member, called on Member States to make more health staff available to deal with the crisis.
“Smokers are far more vulnerable to the virus and the death rate is higher among smokers, so if you are a smoker and have not been convinced to give up smoking by now you never will,” he said.