As a Member of the Management Board of the Former Members Association of European Parliament and as Deputy Chair of ECDC Management Board I try to put a lot of attention to raise awareness regarding the COVID-19 wherever is possible. The last face to face FMA MB meeting at the European Parliament took place on 5 February 2020. Already at this meeting, we focused on current information on the new unknown virus in view of the first outbreaks of COVID 19 in the EU. Already in March 2020, we prepared motivational videos intended for our members – EU citizens – to stay at home, how to take care of themselves and everyone else.
On our website www.formermembers and on other social media such as twitter and facebook, we publish scientifically supported information from ECDC – the European Agency for Disease Control and Prevention. The information focuses on measures at the individual level to prevent the spread of the virus, as well as awareness of measures that vary slightly from country to country, depending on the current epidemiological situation. Throughout the epidemic, we follow the decisions of the President of the European Parliament regarding restrictions on infection prevention.
During the ongoing epidemic, information on vaccines is also available on social media, and discussions on the ENVI and EP Plenary sessions are available through FMA News letters, which provide information from the EPRS. Also the monthly Bulletin, which brings the information closest to all members, even those who do not use social media, was fully dedicated to virus control. This was followed in December by an international table chaired by Lord Richard Balfe on COVID 19.
In the FMA’s governing bodies and in the media, personally advocate the usefulness of our own European Center for the Control and Prevention of Infectious Diseases, ECDC, which many citizens still do not know that even exists and plays a significant role in protecting Europeans.
1.4.2020. the first meeting of the Remote Management Board is held, chaired by Dr. Hans Goert Pöttering, former President of the EP. We define the temporary transformation of our performance from physical presence meetings – to teleworking.
At that time, based on ECDC analysis and guidelines, I presented the state of infection in Europe. It was not yet clear at this time when the virus would reach its peak of infection. The transformation of our operations has also changed the Campus program, where, as former MEPs, we lecture at universities on European values and policies. From here, these lectures are only at a distance. ZOOM and Webex have become our new reality. Secretariat staff move from the EP premises to work from home, in accordance with the instructions of the EP President. The EP, as the heart of democracy, had to close physically its doors for the first time in history to prevent the virus from spreading.
The COVID 19 pandemic has up to, and including 28 January 2021, claimed 100 million infected worldwide and more than two million deaths. There are 19 million infections and 449,395 deaths in the EU / UK. The second wave is even worse than the first, but the question remains – how long? In most Member States, the epidemiological situation is worrying, especially in countries with an increased trend of infections. This is changing from week to week, so countries must adapt their measures to prevent the virus. In a few countries, the mortality trend is still on the rise, especially among the elderly population. After a few countries, the number of hospitalized and the number of patients in intensive care is also on the rise. In March 2020, Germany expressed its readiness in solidarity to accept patients from other countries if they do not have enough capacity. Today, according to unofficial information, the number of hospitalized COVID patients in Germany is already above the capacity limit.
Today, an increased number of tests, better preparedness of health systems and, at the same time, tracking of infection contacts help to control the spread of the virus. A major unknown are the mutations in the virus, which have been occurring since December 2020, and some of them are spreading faster and pose a new potential threat. According to the vaccine manufacturers, this should also be sufficient to control mutations in the virus.
At the end of January 2021, we are all expecting sufficient quantities of vaccines across all Member States. Vaccines licensed for the EU market are: Pfizer BioNtech, Moderna and Astra Zeneca. The problem is the narrow production capacity and, of course, the high demand. The European Commission has contracted two billion vaccines, and the question is when they will arrive, as the first delays and ambiguities in deliveries have already arose in early 2021. The goal is to allow EU and UK citizens who wish to do so by the summer, to be vaccinated with two doses of the vaccine. Each country has its own vaccination strategy, and in most cases the priority is on the elderly and the weak, as well as on health workers. The expected vaccination rate varies between Member States. In France, the percentage of people who believe in the vaccine is slightly lower, which may mean a smaller number of vaccinated. In Slovenia, for example, 70% vaccination is expected among those over 18 years of age. However, vaccination does not mean giving up wearing masks, taking physical distance into account and washing your hands consistently.
The epidemic unites us in a desire for solidarity among the peoples of Europe, because the virus knows no borders. What the future of our gatherings and travels will be is difficult to predict. Today, we are once again facing border closures and travel bans. The third wave of the epidemic is being mentioned more and more often, which increases uncertainty. What is even more certain this year is that the meetings would be organized in a hybrid way.
We will also overcome this epidemic through cooperation and respect for each other. Life in the future, however, is likely to travel on new tracks.