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The EU chief self-isolates himself as the virus makes its mark at a summit

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I myself have tested negative, wrote on Twitter posted by von der Leyen, a doctor being trained. However, as a precaution I am leaving the European Council immediately to go into self-isolation.

In its latest update Thursday, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said more than 4.4 million cases of the virus have been reported in 27 EU countries, plus Britain, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland since the pandemic began. . More than 198,000 people have died. Some nations are tightening precautionary measures.

We are seeing a deterioration of the COVID-19 situation everywhere in Europe. It means we need more cooperation at a European level, European Council President Charles Michel, who is chairing the two-day summit, told reporters.

Michel said leaders will focus on how to improve tracking capacity, how to harmonize quarantines in place to maintain what is a major threat to many European countries, pushing them to take new restrictive measures.

Images from inside the country, which is outside the borders of journalists, showed Von der Leyen mingling with several other heads of government and officials, including the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Portugal and the Netherlands and the president of the European Parliament.

Like the others, she mostly wore a mask except when sitting down and seemed to be observing proper social distance. The wide summit round table was generously shared and some leaders could be seen washing their hands with gel as they entered. The usual hugs and kisses so common last year were replaced with elbow bumps.

French President Emmanuel Macron was particularly involved in a close conversation with Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, who is also representing Poland because its prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, is under quarantine after coming into contact with a coronavirus-infected bodyguard. A first test showed that Morawiecki was not infected. He would do another test later Thursday.

Since the pandemic first appeared in Europe in February, EU leaders have held several high-level meetings via videoconference. But they held their last meeting in person just two weeks ago. Officials say it is often the only way to make a business really sensible. However, not everyone was happy about traveling back to Brussels so quickly.

This summit should be held as a video conference. “I have on several occasions proposed holding video conferences instead of meeting in person,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told reporters on arrival in Brussels. There are some discussions where one needs to get a little closer to each other. And then there are other meetings where you can do it like video conferencing.

Addressing the pandemic that will be debated on Friday after Brexit trade talks with Britain, climate change and EU-Africa relations are high on the agenda.

The question remains whether this could be the last personal encounter for a while if the coronavirus continues to spread at rates not seen for months. The next official summit in Brussels is scheduled for December 10-11. On Thursday, the European Parliament said its next plenary session scheduled for next week in the French city of Strasbourg would be held at a distance.

Parliament Speaker David Sassoli said the virus has already infected a number of EU lawmakers, staff and their associates. Traveling is very dangerous. The situation in Strasbourg is critical and in Brussels very serious, he said.

Samuel Petrequin in Brussels, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen and Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed to this report.

Follow the AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, transmitted, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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