Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, Energy Minister Karin Elharar and Israel’s ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Haim Assaraf met today with US climate envoy John Kerry. The Israeli delegation told Kerry that Israel will be joining the American and European-led initiative for a global 30% reduction in methane gas emissions by 2030. The initiative, to be presented at the COP26 summit in Glasgow at the beginning of November, will join world efforts to reduce emissions of CO2.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen – those in the room, those watching online – to this final press conference for the OECD’s Ministerial Council Meeting. We’ll have a – we’ll hear a few remarks from the Secretary-General, followed by remarks from the Secretary of State, who chaired the meeting. And then we will take some questions and answers. I now hand the floor over to the Secretary-General Mathias Cormann.
SECRETARY-GENERAL CORMANN: Thank you very much and welcome everyone. Good evening. Thank you to the U.S. Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, for chairing this Ministerial Council Meeting. This has been an extremely successful MCM. The United States leadership of this MCM has been absolutely central to its success. Thank you also to the vice chairs, Korea and Luxembourg, particularly to Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and Finance Minister Pierre Gramegna.
About 70 ministers and 180 delegates joined our discussions, either in person – most of them in person here at the OECD – or some in virtual format.
(Via interpreter) Your commitment for democracy, the rule of law, gender equality, and market economy principle, and international order founded on rules and international cooperation, and equal opportunity for all to fulfill their potential – these are the values which gather us today. In all of the OECD, the economic outlook have improved.
(In English) In our recent, interim economic outlook, we project global growth of 5.7 percent this year and 4.5 percent in 2022. However, the recovery remains uneven, exposing both advanced and emerging markets to risks. Slow vaccination progress in some emerging markets and especially in low-income countries are a global concern. Renewed outbreaks of the virus, especially in countries with relatively low vaccination rates, are forcing developing countries to restrict activities, resorting in bottlenecks and adding to shortages in supply chains.
So over the past two days, the recovery and optimizing the strength and equality of the recovery from COVID-19 has been front and center in all of our discussions. Ending the health, economic, and social crisis caused by the pandemic and optimizing the strength and the quality of that recovery is our shared key priority. There’s strong agreement on the need to accelerate vaccine deployment across the world, including by supporting the ACT Accelerator and its COVAX facility.
Beyond the pandemic, we also had rich exchanges on key global challenges: driving and supporting global leadership on more ambitious, effective, and globally coordinated action on climate change; seizing the opportunities of the accelerating digital transformation by better managing some of the associated and growing risks, challenges, and disruptions; finalizing a multilaterally agreed approach to international taxation. And we’re really at the pointy end of that process now, we hope, making international tax arrangements fairer and work better in the context of digitalization and globalization. And we focused on advancing gender equality and on advancing equality of opportunity more generally on the foundation of strong, cleaner, fairer economic growth. And as market-based democratic nations, we committed to actively supporting the crucial work of the WTO to help ensure we can have a well-functioning, open, global market underpinned by rules-based multilateral trading system in good working order.
Ministers affirmed two unique tools to help optimize the strength and equality of the post-COVID recovery: the COVID-19 recovery indicator dashboard, which provides a succinct but comprehensive set of outcome indicators that can help countries measure whether the recovery is indeed strong, inclusive, green, and resilient. Ministers also operationalized a new OECD International Programme for Action on Climate, which offers a new steering and monitoring instrument to pursue the transition to net zero emissions by 2050. The IPAC preliminary dashboard, composed of key climate indicators, provides an overview of country progress towards net zero emissions.
A series of other important decisions were made, which are all reflected in the statement.
Finally, at this MCM, we have also revitalized the organization’s commitment to effective multilateralism. And the positive and active engagement of the United States in effective multilateralism is so important, and it’s been so good to have the U.S. provide leadership to this Ministerial Council Meeting in the leadup to this event, but in particular over these last few days.
We have taken an important step forward to strengthen our global reach, relevance, and impact through the new OECD global relations strategy. The strategy, which will ensure our engagement with nonmember countries, is aligned with members’ interests, shapes our contributions to global fora, including the G20, the G7, and APEC.
In relation to the six current accession applications in front of us, I particularly thank Secretary Blinken for his statement at this MCM yesterday that the U.S. is committed to see the OECD continue to grow stronger and indicating the readiness of the U.S. to work with all our members to build consensus on the way forward so that applicant countries that share our values and meet the OECD’s high standards can pursue a path to membership. As secretary-general, I will now seek to facilitate that consultation over coming weeks.
(Via interpreter) We are looking forward to the coming intense multilateral agenda of the coming months in order to ensure the success of COP26, of the G20 summit, and of the ministerial conference of the WTO. When I joined the OECD four months ago, I described this place as a place where we can identify global collective solutions that we can implement at the national level. This is a place of political innovation, a dynamic forum to facilitate knowledge sharing and inspire collaboration and action. During this MCM, the members have fulfilled this potential, and I have the honor of heading the secretariat by supporting its work today and in the coming years.
Thank you, and I will now turn to Secretary of State Mr. Antony Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you so much, Secretary-General. It’s been really wonderful to be with you and the entire team and all the delegations here this week. Let me just start by saying how terrific it always is to be back in France, to be in Paris. And I’m particularly grateful for the very constructive discussions that we had over the last couple of days as well with the closest of partners, the oldest of allies, France, and the work we’re doing to deepen even more the relationship.
But I really want to convey to you, Mathias, and to everyone at the OECD both thanks and congratulations for such a successful ministerial meeting. And it was particularly good to just be in the same room with most of our colleagues and to see each other face to face or still occasionally mask to mask. It’s also been an honor to lead the U.S. delegation. It included senior officials from across the administration, including our Special Envoy for Climate, the U.S. Trade Representative, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, the Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment. We all came to Paris because the OECD is such a valuable forum for getting important work done on behalf of our economies and on behalf of our people.
That’s been the case for the past 60 years, but I think as evidenced by what we have done over the last couple of days, that’s arguably even more the case now and going forward. Since its founding 60 years ago, the OECD has evolved into a forward-looking institution where the world’s leading market-oriented democracies come together to identify urgent global challenges, to share best practices, to drive research, to inform policies, and to recommit to shared values, which are the foundation of everything that we’re doing. This year, we continued that tradition by focusing on the theme of a green and inclusive future.
And that actually ties together three of the most critical challenges that our countries face today: stepping up our response to the climate crisis, shaping the global economy in a sustainable way, and addressing deep-rooted inequities that hold our democracies and our economies back. Over the past two days, OECD member states shared strategies for investing in a green future and moving toward a net zero economy by 2050. We agreed that the climate crisis must and will remain at the top of the OECD agenda. The cooperation and the data-driven policy analysis that the OECD provides is also vital as we seek to repair the damage of the COVID-19 pandemic and build back better from it.
We focused as well on global corporate minimum tax rate, which many OECD member states, including the United States, support. It would help us avoid a self-defeating race to the bottom in which our countries lower our corporate tax rates only for others to lower theirs in response. This is a race that has gone on for decades, and no country has won it. A shared approach on taxation will level the playing field for workers and businesses, foster greater equity within and among our nations, and it will create a strong foundation for countries around the world to fund and finance things that are vital to the lives of their citizens. We have now nearly 140 countries, representing more than 90 percent of global GDP, that have already agreed to this effort. So it is time to seize the moment and get it done.
We aligned on the need to spark a race to the top for quality infrastructure projects around the world to support more projects that are climate resilient, environmentally sustainable, free from corruption, and truly benefit the communities where they’re built. Too often, what we’ve seen is infrastructure projects, especially in developing economies, that simply aren’t done that way. They’re built with imported labor, they steamroll local communities, they leave countries in debt. Through projects like the Blue Dot Network – which is an initiative of the United States, Japan, and Australia, in collaboration with the OECD and Build Back Better World – we will champion a different approach.
On a central issue of the future economy, we share a belief that the OECD should be a key international forum to develop the rules of the road that will guide the use of emerging technologies – like AI, cybersecurity – and help strengthen the supply chain security that is so vital to all of our countries.
We also discussed strategies for how to bridge the gender digital divide to ensure that women and girls can fully participate in the digital economy. We simply will not achieve a strong, equitable, resilient global economy if women and girls aren’t fully included. The same is true for LGBTI persons, for racial and ethnic minorities, anyone else excluded from full participation in the global economy. And the OECD is doing vital work across all of those areas.
We in the OECD are united by a commitment to, as I said, the shared values that have made possible all of our progress over the last 60 years: democracy; the rule of law; human rights, including gender equality; and open, inclusive, and transparent market economies. That’s what sets the OECD apart, and it’s especially important today at a time when these principles are challenged by authoritarian governments that argue that their model is better at meeting people’s basic needs. Now more than ever, we must prove that our approach can make life better for our people and for people all over the world.
So we just approved the OECD 60th Anniversary Vision Statement. It reaffirms our commitment to those ideals, and critically, to seeing them put into practice, because ultimately that’s what this is all about. It’s taking the ideals that bring us together and putting them into practice. I’m confident that they will continue to guide us for the next 60 years and beyond.
So Mathias, again, thank you. It’s been great to be here with you. But I’m especially grateful for your leadership, not just these past few days but ever since you’ve been on the job with a very, very important agenda going forward. And thanks to all the member states of the OECD for such a productive and, I believe, principled ministerial conference. Thanks very much.
MODERATOR: We’ll take a first question from AFP (Inaudible)
QUESTION: Hello, Mr. Secretary. You met with Mr. Macron, Mr. Le Drian since you came here. On European defense and the situation in Sahel, how – to what extent is the U.S. ready to support France and the EU? And should we expect announcements by the end of the month? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. Following the conversation between President Biden and President Macron a few weeks ago, we were directed to take what is one of the most important relationships in the world and make it even better, make it even stronger, deepen our consultations, deepen our cooperation, deepen our coordination. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. There’s a lot of work that goes into this, and we’ve had teams meet in a variety of ways in the last – in the last days and indeed in the last weeks. That’s going to continue.
And as you noted, there are a number of areas where the two presidents agreed we should focus our efforts. One is on the work that we’re already doing in the Sahel and to look for ways, practical ways to deepen that cooperation. Another is in Euro-Atlantic security, again, working as we have for so many years now, not only within NATO as allies but also looking at ways to enhance and increase European capacity, something that the United States supports, and as well in the Indo-Pacific, where the EU has put out an important strategy. France played a critical role in developing that strategy.
We’re about to do the same in the coming months and we’re in intensive consultations to make sure that our strategies are linked up and joined together, because it is vitally important to the United States that Europe in general, France in particular, be a strong and engaged partner in the Indo-Pacific.
So we had very good conversations this week in all three of those areas, as well as many others where France and the United States work very closely together. This is ongoing work. It will be continued in the days ahead, including by the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who will be here in a couple of days. And then we fully expect that President Macron and President Biden will be speaking in the weeks ahead and also meeting to continue this work.
MODERATOR: Next question is from Kylie Atwood of CNN.
QUESTION: Good afternoon. Secretary Blinken, two questions for you. First, do you believe that after this visit France and their trust in the United States has been restored? And given the strategic security dialogue with Mexico on Friday, I wanted to ask how you would assess the U.S.-Mexico relationship right now. And in the meetings on Friday, will you raise one issue – that is, the Mexican Government recently failing to approve visas for DEA agents who have been assigned to Mexico over the last year? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great. Thanks, Kylie. Let me start with the second question first. So we are indeed heading to Mexico in a couple of days. We will be convening for the first time this High-Level Security Dialogue and talking about a broad range of common security issues and challenges, and that follows on the economic dialogue that brought us together just a few weeks ago in Washington.
I’ve got to say, if the security dialogue matches in quality what we experienced with the economic dialogue, that would be – and I fully expect it will – very, very positive and also productive, because I have to say we had one of the best exchanges I remember in – at least in my experience with our Mexican colleagues just a couple of weeks ago. And I think that’s very much the spirit in which we’re approaching the security dialogue in a couple of days.
We have the Attorney General taking part. We have the Secretary for Homeland Security taking part of this. We will be spending time with President Lopez Obrador as well as with our counterparts and we’ve got a very broad-ranging agenda, and I think it’s evidence of the fact that the relationship, while some issues like migration understandably get a lot of headlines, is incredibly broad and deep-rooted, and so I think we’ll be covering a lot of ground. I don’t want to spoil the fun, so we’ll have an opportunity to talk in more detail about that going forward.
QUESTION: Any details on —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ll have a chance to talk more about Mexico in Mexico. So come on down.
And then with regard to France, as I said, look, you have to obviously ask our friends here for their views. From my perspective, the conversations we’ve had just in the last 24 hours were very positive, very productive, and reflect a lot of important work that’s in progress, work that was tasked by President Biden and President Macron to, as I say, deepen consultations, deepen cooperation, deepen coordination across a range of issues that make a real difference for citizens of France and citizens of the United States.
We’re looking at very practical cooperation in a number of areas. I talked about it a moment ago with our colleague, including in the Sahel, including with regard to Euro-Atlantic security, and including in the Indo-Pacific. And I think it’s evidence of the seriousness of purpose that we have that we’ve had our teams meeting very consistently and regularly on this. My visit is followed by, as I said, Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, coming to continue to work on this. And what we’re doing, I think, is ultimately teeing up some very practical additional initiatives that the presidents will have an opportunity to discuss in the coming weeks.
MODERATOR: Next question from Will Horobin of Bloomberg.
QUESTION: Hello. A question about international tax negotiations. There are two days to go until the Inclusive Framework meeting. Are you confident of a deal on Friday that will include all G20 members? And will the U.S. be able to implement such a deal if it requires changes to tax treaties?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Mathias, do you want to have a start at that?
SECRETARY-GENERAL CORMANN: Well, the G20 finance ministers’ meeting in Venice in July reached a historic agreement on an international tax deal that is designed to make international tax arrangements fairer and work better. There was more detail to be worked through and those discussions are continuing. As I stand here before you, I’m quietly optimistic that in time for the G20 Leaders’ Summit towards – at the end of October that we’ll be in a position to finalize an agreement. There is more work on the way and we will continue to engage in those conversations in the same positive and constructive and solutions-focused spirit that has characterized this process so far. We are very, very close. We obviously believe that it is very much in the world’s interest to finalize a deal. The combined effects of globalization and digitalization have created distortions and inequities that need to be addressed, and Secretary Blinken went through some of those in his opening remarks. And a lot of work has been done. We’re very close. Conversations are continuing. As I stand here today, I’m quietly optimistic that in time for the G20 Leaders’ Summit we will be able to finalize an agreement.
Of course, the Inclusive Framework meeting on Friday is a key meeting and we’ll give it our best and we’ll see how we go.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And I would simply say that I share the quiet optimism. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make the international tax system fairer. It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help countries raise the revenue necessary to actually do things important to bettering the lives of their citizens and to building back better from COVID. And my sense of the conversations in the last couple of days is that a broad array of countries share that view, share that perspective. We still have some work to do but, as the Secretary-General said, I think we’ve made good progress in the last couple of days and we want to bring this over the finish line.
MODERATOR: Great. The final question is Simon Lewis from Reuters.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Mr. Secretary, while you’ve been here there was a readout from the Russian Foreign Ministry about a call you had with Foreign Minister Lavrov, so I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about what it is you’re discussing with the Foreign Minister on the Iran deal, and what are you hoping Russia can do to bring Iran back into that deal? And also, on that call did you discuss the eight Russians who were expelled from NATO, which is a story that just broke today?
And just another, separate issue: There’s been a significant increase in Chinese activity near Taiwan, and does that give you – does that give the U.S. cause to change its calculus in any way and does that contradict the agreement that – with China that the President talked about yesterday, which seemed to be a reference to the understanding between the U.S. and China that Taiwan issues should be resolved by peaceful means? Is that something that the U.S. side is going to bring up during the talks in Zurich?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. With regard to the call with Foreign Minister Lavrov, yes, we focused on the JCPOA, and the United States and Russia I think share an interest in seeing a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA. Russia has been an important participant in this effort, and we talked about where things stand. We talked about the commitment of the United States to return to compliance, but the necessity of Iran being willing to do the same thing. And I noted again to Foreign Minister Lavrov that the runway is getting shorter and shorter on that prospect and on that interest that we share because, as I’ve said before and as we’ve talked about before, given what Iran is doing with its nuclear program that is inconsistent with the obligations under the JCPOA and the constraints imposed by the JCPOA against spinning more sophisticated centrifuges, enriching uranium to 20 percent and even 60 percent, we are getting closer and closer to a point where simply returning to compliance with the JCPOA won’t recapture the benefits of the agreement. So we had an opportunity to compare notes on where we stand and where we hope to go.
With regard to Taiwan, I have to tell you and reiterate that we are very concerned by the PRC’s provocative military activity near Taiwan. As we’ve said, the activity is destabilizing, it risks miscalculation, and it has the potential to undermine regional peace and stability. So we strongly urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure and coercion directed at Taiwan. We have – the United States has – a commitment to Taiwan that is rock solid and, over many years, has contributed to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region. And we will continue to stand with friends, with allies to advance shared prosperity, shared security, shared values, as well as continue to deepen our ties with a democratic Taiwan.
MODERATOR: We have to close the press conference there, and I thank you all very much for your questions. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined business and civil society representatives for a discussion on the Blue Dot Network and the imperative to raise standards in infrastructure investment on October 5, 2021. Secretary Blinken and co-panelists Yves Perrier, Chair of Amundi, Brendan Bechtel, CEO of Bechtel Group, and Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation,
The Blue Dot Network, announced jointly by the United States, Japan, and Australia in 2019, will be a mechanism to certify quality projects that meet robust international standards. Blue Dot Network certification would serve as a globally recognized symbol of open and inclusive, transparent, Paris Agreement-aligned, and financially, socially, and environmentally sustainable infrastructure projects. By utilizing a common standard and assurance of project excellence, the Blue Dot Network would help attract private capital to infrastructure projects in developing and emerging economies.
Secretary Blinken announced a new initiative in partnership with the OECD – Connecting the Dots: Building Trusted Systems to Address Corruption in Infrastructure – which aims to tackle corruption in infrastructure projects, complementing the Blue Dot Network’s goal of greater openness and transparency. The anti-corruption program, supported by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and the OECD’s Trust in Business initiative, will build the capacity of stakeholders in infrastructure projects to implement effective anti-corruption systems in line with leading anti-corruption standards and global programs for infrastructure, including the Blue Dot Network.
With U.S. State Department financial assistance, the OECD Trust in Business initiative is providing technical support to design and implement the Blue Dot Network. The OECD has analyzed the leading infrastructure standards widely used in the world today and mapped them against the Blue Dot Network’s core elements for quality infrastructure. The OECD is providing options and recommendations to the Blue Dot Network Steering Committee on operationalizing a global certification process and review framework.
The OECD has also organized the Blue Dot Network Executive Consultation Group, a group of over 160 representatives of civil society, academia, and business, including infrastructure developers and financiers to provide strategic input on the implementation of the Blue Dot Network. The Executive Consultation Group includes asset managers who together manage over $12 trillion in assets worldwide. The group meets on an ongoing basis to review efforts and advise on how to ensure the certification process is efficient, legitimate, and serves the need of all stakeholders.
The Blue Dot Network could also serve as the platform for common standards in the new Build Back Better World (B3W) partnership of the G7. At the G7 Summit in June 2021, President Biden announced the B3W initiative, a values-driven, high standard, and transparent infrastructure partnership aimed to help address the massive infrastructure demand in the developing world in four focus areas – climate, health and health security, digital connectivity, and gender equity and equality. B3W’s efforts will be guided by high standards and principles, such as those promoted by the Blue Dot Network, relating to the environment and climate, labor and social safeguards, transparency, financing, construction, anti-corruption, and other areas.
For further information, see www.state.gov/blue-dot-
“This is a special institution, a special organization heading to its 60th anniversary… A very powerful forum for coming together, working together on real solutions to the problems that our citizens face, as well as the opportunities.”
– Secretary Antony J. Blinken, June 25, 2021
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken travels to Paris October 4-6 to chair the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) annual Ministerial Council Meeting (MCM), in the second of two sessions of the annual meeting. The U.S. delegation will include the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, the U.S. Trade Representative, the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, and the Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment. The Ministerial theme is “Shared Values: Building a Green and Inclusive Future;” accordingly, advancing efforts to combat the climate crisis, to promote sustainable development, including quality infrastructure development, and to build an inclusive and equitable future will be among U.S. priorities at the MCM.
The OECD: Better Policies for Better Lives
- The OECD was founded 60 years ago in 1961. It was a successor to the Organization for European Economic Co-operation, which was created under the U.S. Marshall Plan to help European countries rebuild after the destruction of World War II.
- The OECD provides a forum in which the governments of the European Union and 38 advanced democracies with market‐based economies work together to address common problems and identify best practices. The organization has around 300 bodies that meet regularly, including standing committees, working parties, and ad hoc groups.
- Together with governments, policy makers and citizens, the OECD works on establishing evidence-based international standards to find solutions to a range of social, economic, and environmental challenges, from improving economic performance and creating jobs to fostering strong education and fighting international tax evasion.
Advancing the U.S. Economic Policy Agenda
- By encouraging other countries to adopt OECD recommendations aligned with U.S. policies, the United States can leverage the OECD to provide a better environment for U.S. companies to compete globally. For example:
- The OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention helps ensure international competitors to U.S. businesses adhere to the same strong anti-bribery standards abroad as U.S. companies, leveling the playing field for our businesses.
- The OECD’s Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting provides the primary global forum for negotiating agreements on tax policies in line with U.S. priorities. This includes achieving consensus-based solutions on digitalization to prevent discriminatory unilateral taxes targeting U.S. digital firms.
- The OECD’s data privacy guidelines and Global Privacy Enforcement Network support secure cross-border data flows, interoperability, and privacy enforcement cooperation.
- The United States also constructively engages and integrates a climate change focus into many of the OECD’s workstreams, such as its work on innovation, mobilization of private finance, industrial decarbonization, and addressing carbon leakage.
U.S. Leadership at the MCM
- To honor the Organization’s 60th anniversary and focus our attention on the crucial work at hand, the United States is chairing this year’s MCM, with the Republic of Korea and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg serving as Vice-Chairs, under the theme: “Shared Values: Building a Green and Inclusive Future.”
- Part One of the MCM brought OECD members together virtually on May 31 and June 1 to mark the handover in leadership of the OECD from former Secretary-General Angel Gurria of Mexico to new Secretary-General Mathias Cormann of Australia, and share priorities for the near-term recovery from COVID-19. Part Two will shift the attention to addressing medium- and long-term challenges and will include a focus on gender equality.
- As Chair of the MCM, the United States is focusing the agenda on building back our economies and societies after the COVID-crisis in a better, more inclusive way. This means addressing the climate crisis, promoting the global transition to net-zero emissions, working together to ensure the gains of trade are shared by all, managing the disruptive impact of critical and emerging technologies, promoting data free flow with trust, and finding inclusive and equitable economic strategies that honor our shared democratic values.
- At the end of the session, members will adopt a new Vision Statement to guide the Organization for the upcoming decade.
A pre-requisite for good macroeconomic policymaking is timely information on the current state of the economy, particularly when economic activity is changing rapidly. Given that GDP figures are usually only available on a quarterly basis, the current crisis has prompted a search for alternative high‑frequency indicators of economic activity. This column presents evidence from a new tracker developed by OECD which uses Google Trends and machine learning to provide real-time estimates of GDP growth in countries all over the world.
With the coronavirus (COVID-19) once again spreading rapidly, and the re-introduction of containment measures to flatten the curve of the epidemic, it is crucial for policymakers to plan effective strategies to re-open their economies to avoid further re-confinements. This should include much more effective testing, tracing and isolation policies that people can easily follow, as well as improved social distancing measures, according to a new OECD report.
Health at a Glance: Europe 2020 provides a first look at comparative data on how European countries have experienced and responded to the pandemic, including both outcomes and policies. Europe has again become a COVID-19 hotspot. As of 15 November 2020, over 10 million people in Europe had been infected and more than 265,000 died from COVID-19, with numbers continuing to rise rapidly. The report shows evidence that banning large gatherings, encouraging people to telework, mandating facemask wearing in public and encouraging their use in private gatherings involving at-risk groups, and strictly limiting capacity in restaurants, stores and other public indoor places can go a long way towards reducing the spread of the virus.
“The recent news of a vaccine is encouraging but tackling this pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “International collaboration will be key to ensuring mass production and widespread distribution of the vaccine. But countries also need to reinforce their support for the healthcare sector and workers, and extend the scale and effectiveness of testing, tracing and isolation policies.”
A few European countries, like Norway and Finland, have been better able to contain the spread of the virus, partly because of geographic factors (lower population density) but also because of greater preparedness and rapid and effective test, track and trace (TTT) strategy, and stronger trust and compliance of citizens with government rules and recommendations. Outside Europe, the four OECD countries in the Asia/Pacific region (Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand) have successfully controlled the COVID-19 outbreak. Beyond their geographical characteristics, these countries quickly introduced effective testing, tracing and isolation policies as well as trust and compliance with social distancing and other key guidelines.
More effective testing, tracing and isolation policies are crucial. Many countries are still struggling to get test results back to people quickly and the effectiveness of contact tracing applications has been limited in several countries. Greater logistical efforts are needed to make tracing of contacts effective and for people infected with COVID-19 to isolate themselves.
During the first wave of the pandemic, 90% of deaths were people over 60 years old and about half or more of COVID-19 deaths in many European countries were among people living in care homes. Measures to isolate confirmed cases in nursing homes have improved, although it remains a challenge to isolate residents with certain conditions, such as neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, without increasing further their psychological distress.
The pandemic has also highlighted the shortages of health workers in many countries before the crisis, as well as the need to create additional reserve capacity that can be quickly mobilised in times of crisis.
Many people with chronic and other conditions besides COVID-19 were unable to access needed care during the first peak of the pandemic in Spring 2020. Access to primary care and specialist care needs to be maintained to respond to all care needs and minimise any complications and indirect deaths from the pandemic.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, waiting times for elective surgery were on the rise in many European countries, as the demand for surgery was increasing more rapidly than supply. These waiting times are likely to increase further in several countries, as many elective surgeries and cancer diagnoses and treatments were postponed during the pandemic.
The report also makes the case to address other ongoing important risk factors to health, notably air pollution that causes hundreds of thousands of deaths each year across EU countries.
Health at a Glance: Europe 2020 is the result of ongoing close collaboration between the OECD and the European Commission to improve country-specific and EU-wide knowledge on health issues as part of the Commission’s State of Health in the EU cycle.