BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said she would leave quarantine on Tuesday after having been in contact with someone positive for COVID-19 a week earlier, despite EU recommendations of 14 days of self-isolation.
Von der Leyen is following Belgium’s rules, which have just been softened, but her decision to ignore the stricter advice from the bloc’s public health body could further weaken calls for a EU common approach to battle the epidemic.
Von der Leyen, who is 61 and is a physician by training, said she would remain in precautionary self-isolation until Tuesday evening, after a person she came into contact with on September 29 in a meeting in Portugal tested positive on Sunday.
She tested negative for the virus on Thursday and Monday.
A spokesman for the Commission declined to comment on the EU recommendation but said the length of her quarantine was in line with Belgian rules.
Belgium, which is home to the EU headquarters, shortened mandatory quarantine from 14 to seven days on Oct 1, despite having one of Europe’s highest infection rates. That was done mostly because people struggled to respect the rule which had a heavy social and economic impact, a spokeswoman for the health ministry said.
However, the country’s decision disregarded the advice of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) which in September reiterated its recommendation of a two-week quarantine for persons who had had contact with confirmed cases.
The ECDC’s guidance says quarantine could be shortened to 10 days after a negative test. The agency declined to comment on von der Leyen’s decision.
The head of the agency, Andrea Ammon, has warned that even the 14-day quarantine may not be enough, as in 3-4% of cases infections emerge after two weeks.
As infections are again rising sharply across Europe, other EU countries have also relaxed their quarantine rules, and a patchwork of national rules has emerged.
In September France shortened the duration of mandatory self-isolation to seven days. Spain, the country with the highest infection rate in Europe, cut the mandatory quarantine to 10 days, saying that most people are no longer infectious after that period.
Italy, which has currently one of the lowest infection rates in Europe, maintains a 14-day quarantine in line with recommendations from the ECDC and World Health Organization.
The European Commission has repeatedly urged the 27 EU states to better coordinate their strategies to combat the epidemic and use common criteria to assess the spread of the disease before introducing new restrictive measures.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio, Editing by William Maclean)
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