EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides seems to have finally come out of hiding to defend Brussels’ inadequate initial response to the coronavirus pandemic, but statements she made defending the EU’s response in an interview with Euronews are clearly contradicted by existing evidence.
Kyriakides has often been blamed for the EU’s slow and insufficient reaction to the pandemic, and now, in a rare media appearance, she stated that the early warning system of the EU has been activated back on Jan. 9, saying that “we have been in contact with the member states since the beginning of the year, in January, giving them information on how to prepare and that Europe could probably face the same situation (as China).”
Her statement, however, does not match the fact reported earlier that beginning on the same date of Jan. 9, when it released its first report on the epidemic, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) clearly underestimated the coronavirus threat.
In fact, Kyriakides herself said in another interview with Euronews on Jan. 24 that “the Chinese measures have halted the spread of the coronavirus epidemic and for the time being there is no need for any special measures in Europe”.
During the night of the same day Kyriakides made that statement, France reported its first coronavirus case.
One month later, on Feb. 24, Kyriakides said that “in view of the WHO recommendations, there is no need to introduce travel or commerce restrictions.”
The WHO tenaciously promoted the idea that countries should keep their borders open and keep accepting foreign travelers, including from China, even as the coronavirus outbreak accelerated in Europe.
“There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade. We call on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based and consistent. WHO stands ready to provide advice to any country that is considering which measures to take,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus while urging countries to keep their borders open to travelers from China in early February.
Tedros even praised China for demonstrating “transparency” during the crisis despite evidence the country covered up the outbreak and persecuted medical whistleblowers.
Kyriakides first visited Rome on Feb. 26, where she said that “we are facing an unprecedented situation”, adding that the impact of the epidemic varied from country to country. After this time, she virtually disappeared, only making the occasional tweet about the “importance of solidarity”, in itself an interesting statement given how the EU has been heavily criticized for abandoning Italy and Spain in their hour of need.
The same day Kyriakides spoke to Euronews, Mauro Ferrari, the president of the European Research Council, resigned from his position, saying, “I am extremely disappointed with the European response to the coronavirus. (…) I have lost my faith in the system. I have seen enough of the European Union’s scientific leadership and political workings.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also admitted this week that the EU underestimated the coronavirus crisis and apologized for the EU’s “slow start” in combating the outbreak.
As of April 8, 2020, there have been 709,978 confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) across the whole of Europe since the first confirmed cases in France on Jan. 25. April 4 saw the highest number of new cases in Europe, with over 40,800 new cases on that day alone.
Title image: EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides. (MTI/AP/Francisco Seco)