The European Union (EU) is working to coordinate public health care response among its member states to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak, the EU's Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said on Wednesday.
The infectious disease is testing the global emergency response mechanisms and the cooperation within the EU, Kyriakides told a press conference in Italy, where there has been a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 infections.
She said that the bloc has had well-established channels of information exchange and provided guidance to help member states prepare their health systems and health care workers.
"But given how quickly the situation can change, even if we are currently in the containment phase, our public health care response across the EU must be ready to deal with increased numbers of COVID-19 infections," Kyriakides said.
The member states have been requested to review their response plans as well as health care capacities, including capacity for diagnosing, laboratory testing and procedures for contact tracing.
"This is the kind of crucial information that we all need to have if the virus spreads further," she said, urging the nations to share the information "as this is important for our mutual security."
The commissioner praised what she believes to be a rational decision made on Tuesday by health ministers of countries including Italy and its neighbors to keep open the borders between them.
"Diverging approaches across the EU should be avoided," she said, adding that the European Commission will produce "a model for information for travelers coming back from risk areas or travelling to them."
Kyriakides deemed it necessary that a joint mission of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organization has been sent to Italy and study the situation on the ground.
An initiative has also been raised to launch a joint procurement procedure to facilitate the access to personal protective equipment, and to provide financial support to EU members for laboratory capacity and diagnostics, as well as exit screenings.
As of Wednesday night, Italy confirmed 400 cases infected by COVID-19, with 12 deaths and three recoveries among them. More than 94 percent of the cases occurred in northern Italy, famous for ski resorts and carnivals, especially Lombardy and Veneto.
New cases have also been confirmed in Italy's neighboring countries like Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Croatia and France, and in other countries like Finland and Spain, mostly because of their trips to Italy.
Ten towns in Lombardy, whose capital is Milan, and one town in Veneto, whose capital is Venice, have been put in quarantine.