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EU Classifies COVID-19 as Mid-Level Threat to Workers as Countries Reopen

The European Union has classified the new coronavirus as a mid-level threat to workers—a move that allows EU-based employers to apply less stringent workplace security measures than if COVID-19 was listed as a high risk, Reuters reports.

Under EU rules, SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has been classified as a level three hazard in a four-level risk list, as decided on Wednesday, 3 June. A level three virus “can cause severe human disease and present a serious hazard to workers; it may present a risk of spreading to the community, but there is usually effective prophylaxis or treatment available.” By contrast, level four biological agents pose a “high risk” of infection, but there is no prophylaxis or treatment available.

The decision—made by the European Commission in consultation with the World Health Organization and scientists—may have widespread economic and health implications as it influences companies’ decisions on reopening while maintaining worker safety.

“The decision means that employers will have to guarantee a series of safety measures for their workers,” Reuters reports. “But because the virus is not classified as high risk they are less likely to be exposed to legal challenges in case of infections.”

The decision comes as many European countries, cities, and businesses are reopening after months of lockdown. Italy has reopened the Colosseum in Rome to visitors, and Spain is planning to reopen different regions to international tourists to restart tourism. Germany lifted its blanket warning on European travel, with officials saying new COVID-19 cases were on the decline in western Europe, The Guardian reports.

France allowed restaurants, cafes, and bars to reopen this week after more than two months, provided they follow strict hygiene rules. Customers are asked to wash their hands with antibacterial gel and wear masks while inside, no bar service is allowed, and tables must be kept one meter apart. In Paris, which has had a higher concentration of COVID-19 cases than the rest of France, only outdoor seating is allowed.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has called for a massive €750 billion recovery plan that would use debt incurred by the 27 member countries to revive pandemic-ravaged economies. The seven-year budget proposal—the EU Multiannual Financial Framework—totals €1.1 trillion between 2021 and 2027, Politico reports, and it will require unanimous approval by all 27 member states. The plan would provide €500 billion in grants to the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, with additional funds available as loans.

“Today we face our very own defining moment,” said Commission President Ursula van der Loyen. “What started with a virus so small your eyes couldn’t see it, has become an economic crisis so big you simply couldn’t miss it.”