EU at risk of being overwhelmed by COVID-19: EU Commission head

BRUSSELS: The European Union’s healthcare system are at risk of being overwhelmed by the number of coronavirus cases unless authorities act quickly, the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference on Thursday.

“The spread of the virus will overwhelm our healthcare systems if we do not act urgently,” she said after a video conference of EU leaders to coordinate the EU’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said the Commission made available €220 million to finance cross-border transfer of COVID-19 patients across EU countries to avoid healthcare systems in the most affected countries not being able to cope.

She also said the EU would work for the quick validation, at EU level, of rapid antigen tests.

Global COVID-19 cases rose by more than 500,000 for the first time on Wednesday, a record one-day increase as countries across the Northern Hemisphere reported daily spikes.

The global coronavirus tally stands at 44.7 million cases and about 1.17 million deaths.

Scientists said on Thursday a coronavirus strain that emerged in Spain in June has spread across Europe and now makes up a large proportion of infections in several countries.

The variant, which has not been found to be inherently more dangerous, was first identified among farm workers in the eastern Spanish regions of Aragon and Catalonia.

Over the last two months, it has accounted for close to 90 per cent of new infections in Spain, according to the research paper, authored by seven researchers with backing by Swiss and Spanish public-sector science institutions.

The strain has also crossed European borders and accounted for 40 to 70 per cent of new infections in Switzerland, Ireland and the United Kingdom in September, they found.

The World Health Organisation said in July that there was no evidence mutations of the virus had led to more severe disease.

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