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EU chief urges gradual lifting of coronavirus lockdowns, warns of a 3rd wave

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European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen.

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LONDON — European governments should lift coronavirus lockdowns and other social restrictions gradually to prevent a third wave of infections, according to the president of the European Commission.

Europe has been grappling with a second surge in Covid-19 infections since September which has led to the re-introduction of lockdowns in certain countries and an overall stepping up of restrictions across the region.

Despite a slowdown in cases in some countries in recent days, the numbers are still high and are not yet showing clear signs of a cresting. In the meantime, Europeans are pondering whether they’ll be able to gather with their families over the holiday period.

Speaking Thursday evening, the EU’s Ursula von der Leyen said that “expectations have to be managed.”

“We have all learned from our experience in the summer that the exit from a wave, in this case the exit from the first wave, is very difficult and that the impact of lifting measures too hastily has had a very bad impact on the epidemiological situation in summer and fall,” she said.

Health experts in Belgium have explained that the significant increase in infections in late September and October came after the government eased many of the restrictions that had been in place, such as the reopening of schools for a new term and allowing people to return to work.

“We will make a proposal for a gradual and coordinated approach to lifting containment measures. This will be very important to avoid the risk of yet another wave,” von der Leyen said at a virtual press conference.

As of Thursday, there have been more than 11 million Covid-19 infections in Europe (which includes the EU, the U.K. and other nations), according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. France, Spain and Italy remain the top three EU member states with the most infections. The Czech Republic, Austria, Luxembourg and Slovenia have the highest 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

Von der Leyen’s comments come after positive news on the development of a Covid-19 vaccine. Both Pfizer and BioNtech as well as Moderna’s vaccines have presented high efficacy rates and the European Commission expects these to be approved by the second half of December.

EU leaders have also started considering what parts of the population should be vaccinate first.

Nadia Calvino, Spain’s finance chief, told CNBC’s Karen Tso at a panel event Thursday that there will not be vaccines for everyone straight away.

“We need to decide … which are the groups which should be vaccinated first in order to have maximum impact,” she added.

However, they also have to address the issue that many citizens may be against getting vaccinated. In this context, von der Leyen also said the EU would be starting an information campaign.

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Katherine Clark