No reason to panic about coronavirus in Europe: EU

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Visitors wearing face masks, amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, visit the Japan Olympic Museum in Tokyo on Wednesday. — AFP

ROME — The novel coronavirus is concerning for Europe but there is no reason for alarm, the EU's health commissioner said on Wednesday as Italy battles the world's third-biggest outbreak.

"This is a situation of concern but we must not give in to panic," Stella Kyriakides told reporters in Rome after meeting Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza.

"In the EU we are still in containment phase, it is important to underline this," she added, calling on member states to reinforce their preparations against a possible pandemic of the disease.

A joint EU and WHO team arrived in Italy to help tackle the outbreak, and Kyriakides said she hoped they would help people better understand the outbreak and "identify areas where further EU support will be needed".

"We are facing a situation where there are still many unknowns about this virus and in particular its origin and how it spreads," she said.

"We must also be vigilant when it comes to misinformation and disinformation as well as xenophobic statements, which are misleading citizens and putting in question the work of public authorities."

Kyriakides was also critical of the divergent approaches taken by different EU countries and called on member states to share information with Brussels.

But she welcomed Tuesday's decision by health ministers from several of Italy's neighbors to keep the borders open, at a meeting in Rome chaired by Italy's Health Minister Roberto Speranza.

She also praised Croatia, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, for committing to regular meetings of the bloc's health ministers.

On Wednesday, Italian officials announced a 12th death linked to the outbreak and another jump in the number of cases, which now stands at 374.

The new toll published by the civil protection department is a jump from the 322 cases and 10 deaths recorded on Tuesday evening — the most serious outbreak so far in Europe.

Several cases in other European countries have been reported among people who had recently visited Lombardy, the region of northern Italy worst-hit by the outbreak.


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