The EU has offered “sincere apologies” to Italy to leave it at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis when new evidence emerged that some European countries might have reached herd immunity when they began to carefully lift their locks.
As World Health Organization warned that the continent remained “in the eye of the storm”, the president of the European commission said on Thursday that truth was needed to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic – including political honesty.
“Too many were not there on time when Italy needed a helping hand in the beginning,” Ursula von der Leyen told the European parliament. “And yes, for that it really is Europe overall offer sincere apologies. “
At the start of the crisis, France and Germany imposed a ban on exports of vital medical equipment, while no EU country initially responded to Italy’s request for assistance through the bloc’s emergency mechanism. While health service policies and provisions are the responsibility of member states, the EU is intended to support cooperation between them.
Opinion poll last month found that 88% of Italians felt the European Union failed to support their country, sparking concern in Brussels and other national capitals from Eurosceptic reactions. Von der Leyen’s immediate apology went further than the previous statement in which he chided member states for “the only response for me”.
As more and more European governments begin to reduce physical distance restrictions, a study in the Netherlands suggests that only a small number of people have developed antibodies to Covid-19, reinforcing concerns about “second wave” infections when populations begin to gradually return to normal life.
Jaap van Dissel from the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) said a study of more than 7,000 Dutch blood donors found that only 3% developed antibodies to the virus. The figure shows only “a few hundred thousand people” who may have contracted Covid-19 in a country of 17 million, he said.
The study followed a similar survey of 1,500 people in Austria who were not hospitalized in early April. Which found that less than 1% of the population was “acutely infected” with the virus.
WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge, warned on Thursday that despite “optimistic signs” in some of the countries most affected by the virus, such as Italy and Spain, the number of global cases is still increasing – and half of them are in Europe.
While new infections are widely declining in Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Switzerland, sustained or increasing rates are still being recorded in Britain, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, said Kluge, urging countries that are starting to relax restrictions to ensure control of the mechanism already available.