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BRUSSELS, Oct 15 (Reuters) - The European Commission urged member nations on Thursday to step up preparations against the new surge of coronavirus infections and recommended common measures to roll out vaccines should they become available.
With new cases hitting about 100,000 daily, Europe has by a wide margin overtaken the United States, where an average of more than 51,000 COVID-19 infections is reported every day.
"Time is running out," said EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, urging greater coordination in tracing infections.
"Everyone's first priority should be to do what it takes to avoid the devastating consequences of generalised lockdowns."
She also called on EU governments to adopt a common strategy for the roll out of vaccines as soon as they become available, giving priority to inoculations for the most vulnerable people.
There is little time left for such preparations as the first such shots could be available at the beginning of next year, Kyriakides added.
Health policy is a national prerogative in the 27-country bloc and the EU Commission can only make recommendations for common measures.
Hospitals and vaccination services should be properly staffed with skilled workers equipped with necessary protective gear, the Commission said, urging governments to avoid the shortages evidenced when the epidemic flared in March.
Vaccines should be made available first to the most vulnerable groups, which include healthcare and long-term care facility workers, people over 60, those with chronic diseases, essential workers, and more disadvantaged socio-economic groups.
A conservative estimate the Commission made in July puts people belonging to "priority groups" at more than 200 million among a total EU population of 450 million.
But on Thursday Kyriakides said the portion of the EU population to be prioritised would be decided depending on the vaccines that could be available.
The Commission also called on EU governments to prepare for the possible distribution of vaccines that may need to be stored at extremely low temperatures.
(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/)
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by Robin Emmott and Clarence Fernandez)
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