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EU steps up efforts to roll out antigen testing across Europe

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The European Commission has adopted a recommendation on the use of rapid antigen tests for the diagnosis of COVID-19 (18 November). The recommendation provides guidance on how to select rapid antigen tests; when their use is most appropriate, particularly when wider and swifter testing is warranted; and, advice that testing should be conducted by trained operators.

Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “Testing tells us what the extent of the spread is, where it is, and how it develops. It is a decisive tool to slow down the spread of COVID-19. To increase EU co-ordination on testing methods, we are today providing guidance to member states on the use of rapid antigen test to better manage COVID-19 outbreaks.”

Antigen tests are cheaper, more scalable and much faster at delivering a result, they are however less accurate than PCR tests. Some think that antigen tests are, nevertheless, better at spotting those more likely to spread the disease and their speed may make them more effective. 

The Commission will work with member states towards creating a framework for evaluation, approval and mutual recognition of rapid tests, as well as for mutual recognition of test results, as a matter of urgency.  The WHO recommend tests with > 80% sensitivity and > 97% specificity. 

The Commission will monitor the market and availability of new rapid antigen tests, taking into consideration their clinical performance. The Commission will launch initiatives for the procurement of tests in order to ensure equitable access to rapid antigen tests as well as their swift deployment across the EU. 

The Commission has also signed an agreement with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies  (IFRC) contributing €35.5 million, financed by the Emergency Support Instrument (ESI), to scale up COVID-19 testing capacity in the EU. The funding will be used to support the training of staff for sampling collection and analysis and performance of tests, especially via mobile equipment.

The Commission is hoping that agreed testing regimes could contribute to the free movement of people and the smooth functioning of the internal market in times of limited testing capacities, they could be used at border points such as airports, to give a rapid test result.

Scientific and technical developments continue to evolve, offering new insights on the characteristics of the virus and the possibilities for using different methodologies and approaches for COVID-19 diagnosis. The Commission will update its advice as further information becomes available. 

Crime

Over 40 arrested in biggest-ever crackdown against drug ring smuggling cocaine from Brazil into Europe

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In the early hours of the morning (27 November), more than a thousand police officers with the support of Europol carried out co-ordinated raids against the members of this highly professional criminal syndicate. Some 180 house searches were executed, resulting in the arrest of 45 suspects. 

The investigation uncovered that this drug trafficking network was responsible for the annual importation of at least 45 tonnes of cocaine into the main European seaports, with profits exceeding €100 million over the course of 6 months.

This international sting, led by the Portuguese, Belgian and Brazilian authorities, was carried out simultaneously by agencies from three different continents, with coordination efforts facilitated by Europol:

  • Europe: Portuguese Judicial Police (Polícia Judiciária), Belgian Federal Judicial Police (Federale Gerechtelijke Politie, Police Judiciaire Fédérale), Spanish National Police (Policia Nacional), Dutch Police (Politie) and the Romanian Police (Poliția Română)
  • South America: Brazilian Federal Police (Policia Federal)
  • Middle East: Dubai Police Force and Dubai State Security

Results in brief 

  • 45 arrests in Brazil (38), Belgium (4), Spain (1) and Dubai (2).
  • 179 house searches.
  • Over €12m in cash seized in Portugal, €300,000 in cash seized in Belgium and over R$1m and US$169,000 in cash seized in Brazil.
  • 70 luxury vehicles seized in Brazil, Belgium and Spain and 37 aircrafts seized in Brazil.
  • 163 houses seized in Brazil worth in excess of R$132m, two houses seized in Spain worth €4m, and two apartments seized in Portugal worth €2.5m.
  • Financial assets of 10 individuals frozen in Spain.

Global co-operation 

In the framework of intelligence activities underway with its operational counterparts, Europol developed reliable intelligence concerning the international drug trafficking and money laundering activities of a Brazilian organized crime network operating in several EU countries.

The criminal syndicate had direct contact with drug cartels in Brazil and other South American source countries who were responsible for the preparation and the shipments of cocaine in maritime containers bound to major European seaports.

The scale of cocaine importation from Brazil to Europe under their control and command is massive and over 52 tonnes of cocaine were seized by law enforcement over the course of the investigation.

In April 2020, Europol brought together the involved countries who have since been working closely together to establish a joint strategy to bring down the whole network. The main targets were identified on either sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Since then, Europol has provided continuous intelligence development and analysis to support the field investigators. During the action day, a total of 8 of its officers were deployed on-the-ground in Portugal, Belgium and Brazil to assist there the national authorities, ensuring swift analysis of new data as it was being collected during the action and adjusting the strategy as required.

Commenting on this operation, Europol’s Deputy Director Wil van Gemert said: "This operation highlights the complex structure and vast reach of Brazilian organized crime groups in Europe. The scale of the challenge faced today by police worldwide calls for a coordinated approach to tackle the drug trade across continents. The commitment of our partner countries to work via Europol underpinned the success of this operation and serves as a continued global call to action."

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coronavirus

Commission approves German scheme to compensate accommodation providers in the field of child and youth education for damages suffered due to the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission approved, under EU state aid rules, a German scheme to compensate accommodation providers for child and youth education for the loss of revenue caused by the coronavirus outbreak. The public support will take the form of direct grants. The scheme will compensate up to 60% of the loss of revenues incurred by eligible beneficiaries in the period between the beginning of the lockdown (which started on different dates across the regional states) and 31 July 2020 when their accommodation facilities had to be closed due to the restrictive measures implemented in Germany.

When calculating the loss of revenue, any reductions in costs resulting from income generated during the lockdown and any possible financial aid granted or actually paid out by the state (and in particular granted under scheme SA.58464) or third parties to cope with the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak will be deducted. At the central government level, facilities eligible to apply will have at their disposal a budget of up to €75 million.

However, these funds are not earmarked exclusively for this scheme. In addition, regional authorities (at Länder or local level) may also make use of this scheme from the local budgets. In any event, the scheme ensures that the same eligible costs cannot be compensated twice by different administrative levels. The Commission assessed the measure under Article 107(2)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which enables the Commission to approve state aid measures granted by member states to compensate specific companies or specific sectors for the damages caused by exceptional occurrences, such as the coronavirus outbreak.

The Commission found that the German scheme will compensate damages that are directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak. It also found that the measure is proportionate, as the envisaged compensation does not exceed what is necessary to make good the damages. The Commission therefore concluded that the scheme is in line with EU state aid rules.

More information on 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.59228 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website.

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EU

Commissioner Gabriel participates in European Researchers' Night 2020

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The 15th edition of European Researchers' Night, the largest research communication and promotion event in Europe, takes place this evening (27 November). Events will be organized in 388 cities in 29 countries, giving people the chance to discover science in a fun way. They will take place physically, virtually, or in a hybrid way, in accordance with national measures in place in response to the current pandemic.

Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel will give opening speeches at events in Sofia, Bulgaria and Perugia, Italy. Ahead of this evening's proceedings, she said: “It is fundamental to make science and research accessible to all and to show the impact of science in citizens' daily lives. This is why the European Researchers' Night is so important: it is an event open to all, even accessible from home this year. It showcases research projects and their results in an entertaining way and is a great opportunity to discover and engage with real-life researchers and experts in their respective fields.”

European Researchers' Night is funded by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and in 2020, projects focus mainly on environment, sustainability and climate change.

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