Europe must unite to beat coronavirus

The EU needs a common strategy on test and trace, quarantine and other areas of public health.

Europe must unite to beat coronavirus

Sanna Marin is Prime Minister of Finland.

The only way to save our economy is by defeating the virus.

The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is putting serious strain on healthcare systems across Europe. From the perspective of both health and the economy, it is essential that we get the spread of the virus rapidly under control. Europe, still feeling the impact of prior restrictions, cannot afford a long-term economic recession with the resulting bankruptcies and rise in unemployment.

To overcome this crisis, we need a common European strategy that aims, at its core, to effectively prevent the spread of the virus. We must decide together that we will overcome the virus and adopt strong enough measures to make it happen. The ‘test, trace, isolate and treat’ strategy, based on recommendations from the World Health Organization, provides a solid foundation for this work. Arranging sufficiently extensive testing in all European countries is the starting point for a successful strategy. We also need to adopt affordable and reliable rapid tests and use them extensively. The Member States must step up measures to make contact tracing applications as widely available as possible and must further develop them so they can be interoperable. In Finland, approximately half of the population has already downloaded the contact-tracing application.

Several EU member countries, including Finland, have placed restrictions on cross-border travel. These restrictions can be lifted safely only if we adopt passenger testing requirements, mutual recognition of tests and effective and uniform quarantine procedures. We can improve the safety of commuting, which is necessary in many places, by introducing testing at workplaces. We need a common, EU-wide vision on the duration of quarantine. In cases where traveling requires a negative test result, we must develop an international, secure and digital solution for collecting data on whether a passenger has already contracted the disease or, in the future, possibly a vaccination certificate.

As the virus continues to spread rapidly through Europe, it is essential that we limit our physical contacts. We must work remotely in all tasks where this is possible. The decision to limit the functions of society and restrict people’s mobility is always a difficult one that comes with a high price. However, a prolonged crisis is even more difficult for people and the economy. In a shrinking labor market, young people are in an especially disadvantaged position.

The European Union has demonstrated its ability to work together when faced with an economic crisis. In July, the Member States came together and decided on a major, unique European recovery package. In the national recovery plans, these funds must be used above all in a way that improves the state of the climate and the environment and advances the digital transformation in our societies. When targeted correctly, the recovery funds will accelerate the green transition required to deal with climate change while also increasing people’s wellbeing and giving Europe a global competitive advantage. Recovery can begin once the societies affected by the pandemic are able to reopen, both in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

Even if a viable and safe vaccine is available soon, the comprehensive vaccine coverage of the population is still a long way away. The only way we can ensure the recovery of the European economy is by defeating the virus with a common European strategy. Going forward, the primary responsibility for public health will continue to lie with the Member States, but in an integrated Europe, a Member State that has succeeded in halting the spread of the disease will not be protected unless we are all successful. Promoting a common and effective strategy is therefore the most important current task of the European Union.