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#Coronavirus - Commission approves reprogramming of €275 million in cohesion policy funding to mitigate economic and social impact of the pandemic in Slovenia

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The Commission has approved a programme modification, which provides the basis to use around €275 million of cohesion policy funding to mitigate the harmful consequences of the coronavirus outbreak and its economic and social effects in Slovenia. The resources will be invested in strengthening the emergency response capacities in the healthcare sector, providing liquidity to small businesses, protecting jobs, helping vulnerable groups with accessible social services and promoting digital technologies in the education sector.

Cohesion and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira (pictured) said: “Today's decision is a result of the joint efforts of the Commission and the Slovene authorities to swiftly use the EU funding to ensure vital support to SMEs, health workers, students and those who suffered the most from the coronavirus pandemic. I am pleased to see that our Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative is already delivering concrete results in Slovenia, paving the way for prompt recovery.”

The €275m are resources that will be redirected within the Operational Programme for the Implementation of the EU Cohesion Policy 2014-2020, thanks to the exceptional flexibility under the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII). Under the Initiative (CRII), member states can mobilize cohesion policy funding to flexibly respond to the rapidly emerging needs in the most exposed sectors because of the pandemic, such as health care, SMEs and labour markets. The EU also introduced extraordinary flexibility to allow the possibility for all non-utilized support from the European Structural and Investment Funds to be mobilized imminently in order to respond to the present crisis.

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Britain pressed to follow French and German lockdowns as COVID rates surge

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Britain resisted pressure on Thursday (29 October) to impose a second nationwide lockdown after France and Germany ordered sweeping restrictions on social life to contain a surge in coronavirus infections that has pushed health services to their limits, write and .

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has so far tried to avoid a nationwide lockdown, opting instead for a tiered system of local controls intended to tighten measures in affected regions while leaving others less restricted.

A new study by Imperial College in London underlined the dire situation facing Britain, the country with the largest number of coronavirus deaths in Europe, showing cases in England doubling every nine days.

Steven Riley, the author of the study, said the government should decide quickly if it wanted to follow France and Germany.

“And sooner is better than later for these,” Riley, a professor of infectious disease dynamics, told the BBC.

However Housing Minister Robert Jenrick said he did not think it was inevitable that the UK would follow France and Germany in imposing nationwide restrictions.

“The judgement of the government today is that a blanket national lockdown is not appropriate, would do more harm than good,” he told Times Radio.

Europe’s economies were plunged into their deepest recession on record by the blanket lockdowns imposed at the start of the crisis in March and April and the latest restrictions have snuffed out the faint signs of recovery seen over the summer.

Financial markets steadied somewhat on Thursday after a brutal selloff a day before as the prospect of a double dip recession came ever more clearly into view.

Governments have been desperate to avoid a repeat of the spring lockdowns but have been forced to move by the speed of new infections and a steadily increasing mortality rate across the continent.

While the French and German lockdowns will leave schools and most businesses open, they severely restrict social life by closing bars, restaurants, cinemas and the like and impose strict limits on people’s movements.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who addressed parliament on Thursday, said her government had moved quickly to prevent intensive care facilities being overwhelmed.

“We are in a dramatic situation at the start of the cold season. It affects us all, without exception,” Merkel told the Bundestag lower house of parliament, adding new restrictions to reduce social contact were “necessary and proportionate”.

However she warned of difficult months ahead and said: “The winter will be hard.”

After heavy criticism of a lack of coordination and planning in the initial phase of the crisis, European Union leaders aim to make progress on common testing and vaccination strategies at a video conference on Thursday.

The latest surge in new cases has put Europe back at the centre of the global pandemic, which has so far seen more than 44 million infections and 1.1 million deaths worldwide.

According to figures from the World Health Organization this week, the region accounted for almost half of new global infections in the previous seven days.

The United States has also seen a surge in new coronavirus cases in the run up to next week’s presidential election, with more than 80,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths reported on Wednesday.

By contrast, many Asian countries have begun to relax controls as the disease has been brought under control, with Singapore announcing it would ease restrictions for visitors from mainland China and the Australian state of Victoria.

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Commission approves €7.7 million Greek scheme to support cultural activities in the Municipality of Athens in context of coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €7.7 million Greek scheme to support micro and small companies active in the cultural sector in the Municipality of Athens in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The measure was approved under the state aid Temporary Framework. The public support will take the form of direct grants and it will be co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund. A list of costs incurred by these companies in 2019 will be taken as a reference point to calculate the aid amount per undertaking, which may be between €10,000 and €200,000.

The purpose of the measure is to mitigate the sudden liquidity shortages that these companies are facing due to the measures that the Greek government had to impose to limit the spread of the virus and to ensure continuity of their economic activity. The measure will help companies organise cultural events that promote the cultural assets of the city of Athens. The Commission found that the Greek measure is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework.

In particular, the support (i) will not exceed €800,000 per company as provided by the Temporary Framework; and (ii) will be granted no later than 30 June 2021. The Commission concluded that the scheme is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions of the Temporary Framework.

On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.59033 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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Coronavirus resurgence: Commission steps up action to reinforce preparedness and response measures across the EU

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The European Commission is launching an additional set of actions to help limit the spread of the coronavirus, save lives and strengthen the internal market's resilience. Concretely, the measures aim to better understand the virus' spread and the effectiveness of the response, ramp up well-targeted testing, bolster contact tracing, improve preparations for vaccination campaigns, and maintain access to essential supplies such as vaccination equipment, while keeping all goods moving in the single market and facilitating safe travel.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “The COVID-19 situation is very serious. We must step up our EU response. Today we are launching additional measures in our fight against the virus; from increasing access to fast testing, and preparing vaccination campaigns to facilitating safe travel when necessary. I call on Member States to work closely together. Courageous steps taken now will help save lives and protect livelihoods. No member state will emerge safely from this pandemic until everyone does.”

Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “The rise in COVID-19 infection rates across Europe is very alarming. Decisive immediate action is needed for Europe to protect lives and livelihoods, to alleviate the pressure on health-care systems, and to control the spread of the virus. Next month, we will present the first step towards a European Health Union. In the meantime, member states must improve co-operation and data sharing. Our EU surveillance system is only as strong as its weakest link. It is only by showing true European solidarity and working together that we can overcome this crisis. Together we are stronger.”

The Commission's Communication on additional COVID-19 response measures sets out next steps in key areas to reinforce the EU's response to the resurgence in COVID-19 cases:

  1. Improving the flow of information to allow informed decision-making

Ensuring accurate, comprehensive, comparable and timely information on epidemiological data, as well as on testing, contact tracing and public health surveillance, is essential to track how the coronavirus spreads at regional and national level. To improve the sharing of data at EU level, the Commission calls on Member States to provide all relevant data to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the Commission.

  1. Establishing more effective and rapid testing

Testing is a decisive tool to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. To promote a common approach and effective testing, the Commission is today adopting a Recommendation on COVID-19 testing strategies, including the use of rapid antigen tests. It sets out key elements to be considered for national, regional or local testing strategies, such as their scope, priority groups, and key points linked to testing capacities and resources, and indications as to when rapid antigen testing may be appropriate.

It also calls on member states to submit national strategies on testing by mid-November. To directly purchase rapid antigen tests and deliver them to Member States, the Commission is mobilizing €100 million under the Emergency Support Instrument. In parallel, the Commission is launching a joint procurement to ensure a second stream of access. Where member states are applying prior testing requirements to incoming travellers and where no testing capacities are available for asymptomatic travellers in the country of origin, travellers should be offered the possibility to undergo a test after arrival. If negative COVID-19 tests are to be required or recommended for any activity, mutual recognition of tests is essential, in particular in the context of travel.

  1. Making full use of contact tracing and warning apps across borders

Contact tracing and warning apps help to break transmission chains. So far, member states have developed 19 national contact tracing and warning apps, downloaded more than 52 million times. The Commission recently launched a solution for linking national apps across the EU through a ‘European Federation Gateway Service'. Three national apps (Germany, Ireland, and Italy) were first linked on 19 October when the system came online. Many more will follow in the coming weeks. In total, 17 national apps are currently based on decentralized systems and can become interoperable through the service in the coming rounds; others are in the pipeline. All member states should set up effective and compatible apps and reinforce their communication efforts to promote their uptake.

  1. Effective vaccination

The development and uptake of safe and effective vaccines is a priority effort to quickly end the crisis. Under the EU Strategy on COVID-19 vaccines, the Commission is negotiating agreements with vaccine producers to make vaccines available to Europeans and the world as soon as soon as they are proven safe and effective. Once available, vaccines need to be quickly distributed and deployed to maximum effect. On 15 October, the Commission set out the key steps that member states need to take to be fully prepared, which includes the development of national vaccination strategies. The Commission will put in place a common reporting framework and a platform to monitor the effectiveness of national vaccine strategies. To share the best practices, the conclusions of the first review on national vaccination plans will be presented in November 2020.

  1. Effective communication to citizens

Clear communication is essential for the public health response to be successful since this largely depends on the public adherence to health recommendations. All member states should relaunch communication campaigns to counter false, misleading and dangerous information that continues to circulate, and to address the risk of “pandemic fatigue”. Vaccination is a specific area where public authorities need to step up their actions to tackle misinformation and secure public trust, as there will be no compromise on safety or effectiveness under Europe's robust vaccine authorization system. Vaccines do not save lives – vaccination does.

  1. Securing essential supplies

Since the beginning of the outbreak, the EU has supported manufacturers to ensure the availability of essential medicines and medical equipment. The Commission has launched a new joint procurement for medical equipment for vaccination. In order to give member states better and cheaper access to the tools needed to prevent, detect and treat COVID-19, the Commission is today also extending the temporary suspension of customs duties and VAT on the import of medical equipment from non-EU countries. The Commission is also proposing that hospitals and medical practitioners should not have to pay VAT on vaccines and testing kits used in the fight against the coronavirus.

  1. Facilitating safe travel

Free movement within the EU and the border-free Schengen area are prized achievements of European integration - the Commission is working to ensure that travel within Europe is safe both for travellers and for their fellow citizens:

  • The Commission calls on member states to fully implement the Recommendation adopted by the Council for a common and coordinated approach to restrictions to free movement. Citizens and businesses want clarity and predictability. Any remaining COVID-19 related internal border control measures should be lifted.
  • The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the ECDC are working on a testing protocol for travellers, to be used by public health authorities, airlines and airports to help the safe arrival of passengers. The Commission will also work with member states and agencies on a common approach to quarantine practices, with inputs from ECDC to be presented in November.
  • Passenger Locator Forms help member states undertake risk assessments of arrivals and enable contact tracing. A pilot next month will allow Member States to prepare for the launch and use of a common EU digital Passenger Locator Form, while fully respecting data protection.
  • Re-open EU provides timely and accurate information on health measures and travel restrictions in all member states and some partner countries. The Commission calls on member states to provide accurate and up-to-date information to turn Re-open EU into the one-stop-shop for information about health measures and travel possibilities across the EU. A mobile Re-open EU app is being developed and will launch in the coming weeks.

When it comes to restrictions on non-essential travel from non-EU countries into the EU, the Commission is presenting guidance on categories of persons considered to be essential and therefore exempted from restrictions. This will help member states to consistently implement the Council Recommendation on the temporary travel restriction to the EU. The Commission also once more encourages Member States to facilitate the reunion of those in durable relationships and provides examples of evidence that can be used for this purpose.

  1. Green Lanes extension

Since March, the application of Green Lanes – most notably for road freight to cross borders in less than 15 minutes – has helped to maintain the supply of goods and the economic fabric of the EU. The Commission proposes to extend the Green Lane approach to ensure that multi-modal transport works effectively in areas including rail and waterborne freight and air cargo, and provides additional guidance to facilitate application in practice, on issues such as electronic documentation, and availability of rest and refuelling points. Member states should ensure the seamless free movement of goods across the Single Market.

Background

Recent weeks have seen an alarming increase in the rate of COVID-19 infections across Europe, and sparked new measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus and mitigate its impact. With health systems again under pressure, more needs to be done to control and overcome the situation, protecting lives and livelihoods, and promote European solidarity. Although preparedness and co-operation between member states has improved since the start of the pandemic, coordination remains essential and must be enhanced.

More information

COVID-19 Communication on additional measures

Commission's coronavirus response website

Factsheet: Coronavirus Resurgence: New preparedness and response measures across the EU

Factsheet: EU Coronavirus response

Re-open EU

Contact tracing and warning apps

Emergency Support Instrument

Green Lanes

 

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