Ursula von der Leyen on EU Covid digital certificates
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The move would see a new body, called HERA, set up by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, to be in charge of future health crises. But the proposal has already sparked the outrage of Germany, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands asking for a vote on the legislation to be delayed.
Critics have branded the Commission’s power grab attempt a “clusterf***” and some have called out on the EU executive’s “coup” bids.
One EU diplomat told Politico: “When authoritarian powers are exploiting COVID to grab power we’re the first to condemn them, but when the Commission commits a coup, we’re supposed to look away?”
The Commission, together with the Slovenian presidency of the Council, is urging EU states to vote on the legislation today.
The rushed decision has sparked suspicion among those who worry HERA could open a Pandora’s box if they sign today.
The new body would only be responsible for health coordination in normal times.
But during a pandemic, it would switch to crisis mode, having the power to procure medicines and raw materials while reshoring production capacity to the EU.
Coming to the defence of the von der Leyen’s proposal, lawyers from the Council’s legal service said: “The Proposal aims to set up a mechanism of an exceptional, crisis-led nature, whose activation is limited in time and with core measures relating to safeguarding supply and avoid economic disruption in a situation of public health emergency.”
The Commission is also urging member states to boost efforts to detect mutations, as some still lag behind almost two years into the pandemic.
The bloc has now confirmed 42 cases of the new Omicron variant in 10 countries.
Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “Certain Member States lag behind considerably in terms of this crucial dimension.
“Already faced with a challenging winter due to the high transmissibility of the Delta variant (…) we may now experience further or additional pressures because of the appearance of the Omicron variant.”
Governments around the world are urgently scouring databases for recent cases of COVID-19 infections, screening travellers and decoding the viral genomes of the new variant as they try to measure how far it has spread.
The pace of the work highlights the pressure on governments and public health authorities to decide quickly whether they need to take unpopular, economically damaging steps to curb Omicron’s spread.
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Data shows it was circulating before it was officially identified in southern Africa last week and it has since been detected in more than a dozen countries.
Work to establish if it is more infectious, deadly or evades vaccines will take weeks.
Britain and other major economies banned flights to and from southern Africa just days after the variant was first detected, roiling global financial markets and stirring worries about the economic damage.
The speed of the action is in stark contrast to the emergence of other variants – when the first samples of the Alpha variant were documented in Britain in September 2020, the government spent months gathering data and assessing its potential danger before imposing a nationwide lockdown in December.
It took the World Health Organization (WHO) months to designate it a variant of concern – its highest level.
Soon after detecting its first Omicron case on Friday, Israel announced it would buy 10 million more PCR kits that can detect the variant in an effort to contain its spread. It shut its borders to foreigners from all countries on Saturday.
Scotland and Singapore are scrambling to check tens of thousands of recent positive cases for signs of the variant they may have missed and the United States is enhancing its COVID-19 surveillance to distinguish domestic cases of the Omicron variant from the still-dominant Delta.
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