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Androulla Vassiliou

Member of the European Commission, responsible for Health

European Commission Press Conference on novel flu virus

Speech delivered at the Press Room in Berlaymont
Brussels, 28 April 2009

Good morning ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to express my deepest sympathy for the people of Mexico in these difficult times. Our thoughts are, of course, with the families of those who have been affected by this novel flu virus.

The European Commission is in continuous contact with the Member States, the WHO, the ECDC, our delegations in Mexico, the United States and Canada, and the American authorities to monitor the evolving situation.

The situation report of this morning, notified through the EU Early Warning Response System, states that the number of confirmed cases in the EU stands at 3 (one in Spain and two in the UK). All three patients are reported to be recovering satisfactorily.

However, suspected cases remain in several Member States and we expect the situation in the EU to change over the course of the next few days.

As you will know, last night the WHO raised its alert level from 3 to 4.

The European Commission is operating at a parallel state of alert. We have launched our Health Emergency Operations Facility. This involves 24 hour surveillance and contact with Member States.

Yesterday, the Commission called an audio meeting with the Global Health Security Initiative. This is an international partnership of G7 countries including Mexico. At the meeting, it was agreed that all countries should enhance their surveillance.

Since Saturday the Commission has chaired daily meetings with the EU Health Security Committee and national contact points of the EU Early Warning and Response System. The aim of these meetings is to exchange information on the epidemiological situation and measures taken at national level to respond to this novel flu virus.

As I said to Foreign Affairs Ministers yesterday, Member States have already taken a range of measures which include keeping the general public informed, advice to travellers and increased surveillance.

General consensus has been reached on advice to incoming passengers from affected areas. We have agreed a common case definition, which will be adopted very soon. In the next few days we intend to endorse a common guidance document to ensure a consistent approach across the Member States.

Today the European Commission's Crisis Co-ordination Committee is meeting to ensure that all parts of the Commission are fully briefed of the measures taken.

On Thursday, a meeting of European Health Ministers will take place in Luxembourg. We will discuss the EU's collective response to this rapidly evolving situation. This will focus on precautionary measures, monitoring and surveillance, and diagnosis and treatment.

In the meantime, I have requested a meeting with the pharmaceutical industry, in order to be briefed on the current state of play regarding antiviral and vaccines, ahead of this extraordinary Health Council.

Experience gained in recent years (SARS and Avian Influenza) has put us in a much stronger position. We have more robust surveillance and alert mechanisms in place.

Nobody should underestimate the situation, but there is no reason to panic either. In close collaboration with our partners throughout the world and with transparent information, we will continue to do all we can to protect the health of EU citizens.

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