BRUSSELS -- European Union health ministers were holding an emergency meeting Thursday on how to prevent the COVID-19 virus from further spreading across Europe.
Ministers from the bloc’s 27 member states gather in Brussels amid the outbreak, which has infected around 60,000 people worldwide. Mike Ryan, the executive director of the World Health Organization's emergencies program, will also join the debate via video link.
More people have now died from COVID-19 than during the SARS outbreak, but no death has been reported in Europe so far. Less than 50 suspected cases have been registered on the continent but the EU insists coordinated action is required to keep these figures low.
COVID-19 is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that’s a close cousin to the severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past.
Janez Lenarčič, the commissioner for crisis management, said before the meeting that the risk of COVID-19 further spreading in Europe remains “low, but it may increase."
According to an EU official who wasn't authorized to speak publicly before the meeting, discussions will focus on health questions, with issues like travel bans or restrictions, which are up to individual nations in the bloc, likely to be avoided.
Many countries have implemented travel restrictions on recent visitors to China, which has more than 99% of the world’s reported infections. The EU has so far organized the repatriation of around 500 of its citizens who were in China.
Ministers will also discuss how to facilitate the joint purchase of protective equipment by member states in a bid to avoid potential shortages, and how to help third countries with less robust health systems.