Coronavirus crisis: Macron demands joint EU response as epidemic ‘difficult to avoid’

European Union countries should “urgently” coordinate their responses to the coronavirus outbreak to avoid divergences and limit its spread, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday, as the number of worldwide infections topped 118,000. M Macron said in a Twitter post: “To cope with Covid-19, unity creates strength. “I call for urgent European action to coordinate our sanitary measures, research efforts and economic response. We must act together now.”

France has 1,784 confirmed cases of coronavirus, which is an increase of 372 compared to a day earlier. 

Thirty-three people have died from the flu-like illness.  

An epidemic is now “difficult to avoid,” the head of the public health service Jérôme Salomon told a press briefing Monday evening, though he stressed France was “still in Phase 2” of its coronavirus alert level.

The health chief continued: “The priority is to stop the spread of the virus and reduce the number of peak cases.”

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, for his part, urged Brussels to come up with a “massive” economic stimulus plan to cope with the impact of the deadly outbreak.

M Le Maire told France Inter radio: “I expect a strong, massive and coordinated response from Europe to avoid the risk of an economic crisis after the epidemic.”

The bloc promptly responded to France’s pleas, saying later in the day that EU leaders would hold emergency talks soon to discuss a joint response to the virus.

“Following consultations, I will hold a EUCO members conference call shortly on Covid-19 to coordinate EU efforts,” tweeted Charles Michel, the chairman of EU summits.

“We need to cooperate in order to protect the health of our citizens.”

Separately, the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc’s executive arm was considering all options to help the economy.

Frau von der Leyen said the EU could also spend some of its own money to tackle the health crisis, but warned resources were scarce.

She said: “If I look at the tasks ahead of us, we are running short of the flexibility to act in crises as we see them right now.”

The rapid spread of coronavirus across the world has caused huge disruptions to business operations, supply chains and economic activity, sparking fears of a global downturn.

More than 118,800 people have been infected by the virus across the world and 4,269 have died.

Infections outside of China – the epicentre of the epidemic – have been reported by 111 countries.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), however, said that while a global pandemic was all but inevitable, the virus could be contained.

“Now that the virus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference.

But “we are not at the mercy of this virus,” he insisted: “We need to remember that with decisive, early action we can slow down the virus and prevent infections.”

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