Brussels is launching new joint procurements for testing and medical equipment for vaccination as a second wave of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic unfurls across the bloc.
Brussels is to mobilise a further €100 million to purchase rapid antigen tests to combat a "very alarming" rise in COVID-19 infections, it announced on Wednesday
The European Commission is also launching a new joint procurement to ensure fast access to these tests as well as another one for medical equipment for vaccination.
Other new measures unveiled on Wednesday include the extension of the temporary suspension of customs duties and VAT on the import of medical equipment from non-EU countries. It is also proposing that hospitals and medical practitioners should not have to pay VAT on vaccines and testing kits used in the fight against the coronavirus.
Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in a statement that "the rise in COVID-19 infection rates across Europe is very alarming."
"Decisive immediate action is needed for Europe to protect lives and livelihoods, to alleviate the pressure on healthcare systems, and to control the spread of the virus.
'Testing us all'
Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who is to discuss COVID-19 coordination with EU leaders on Thursday, said the bloc must step up its response.
"I call on Member States to work closely together. Courageous steps taken now will help save lives and protect livelihoods. No Member State will emerge safely from this pandemic until everyone does," she also said.
She also called on member states to link up their COVID-19 tracing apps to the European Gateway which will go live in November, to enhance their data sharing with the bloc's main infectious disease agency, and to prepare national vaccination plans to be reviewed at the EU level.
Von der Leyen also revealed that Brussels is negotiating three additional advance purchase agreements of vaccines, to add to the three already struck.
"The coronavirus is testing us all. But by working together, coordinating our action and taking responsibility at all levels, we can get control over it, protect everyone's health and gradually return out society and economy to normal," she stressed.
More than 210,000 people have lost their lives to COVID-19 in the 31 countries making up the EU, EEA and the UK and a further 6.2 million have been infected, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). This makes the region the world's second most-heavily impacted after north America.
The Old Continent is currently fighting a second wave of the deadly virus with the number of infections and fatalities soaring once more over the previous weeks.
Several countries have now tightened restrictions with nighttime curfews imposed locally in Belgium, France, Italy, and Greece.
According to Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Special Adviser to von der Leyen, about 1,000 Europeans currently die every day from COVID-19 with last week's fatalities about a third higher than during the previous week.
"The situation is very serious and it risks getting worse if we don't take more drastic and urgent measures."
He noted however that "the risk of dying from covid when hospitalised, has been reduced by about half from the spring"
He also flagged the "unprecedented scientific effort" taking place to find a vaccine with 11 currently in clinical trials.
"By the end of the year we will know at least how effective some of them will be," he said.