EU leaders to urge stronger crisis measures after virus

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European leaders will use video talks this week to call for a special crisis centre, saying it is vital to draw "all the lessons" from the epidemic.

The 27 leaders will ask EU officials to start work on an "exit strategy" and recovery plan to help rebuild the economy after the havoc wrought by COVID-19 and the drastic shutdown measures taken to fight it.

As travel restrictions and social-distancing measures prevent the leaders gathering in Brussels, they will convene by video conference for their summit on Thursday.

A statement to be issued afterwards -- a draft of which has been obtained by AFP -- will stress that while the current focus is on fighting the pandemic, work on the recovery must begin now.

"This will require an exit strategy, a comprehensive recovery plan and unprecedented investment," the statement says.

The leaders will task the European Commission, the bloc's executive, with preparing a "roadmap for recovery" and an accompanying action plan.

"We must also draw all the lessons of the present crisis and start reflecting on the resilience of our societies when confronted with such events," the declaration says.

It calls for "a more ambitious and wide-ranging crisis management system within the EU, including, for instance, a true European Crisis Management Centre", without giving details of how the centre could work.

Thursday's summit will take stock of measures taken across the bloc to slow the spread of the virus, share medical supplies and promote the search for a vaccine.

Europe has become the heart of the pandemic, with the death tolls in both Italy and Spain overtaking that of China, where the disease first emerged.

Leaders will also look at economic responses to the crisis, which has seen markets crash as country after country imposes lockdowns that suffocate economic activity.

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