June 11, 2020 / 4:38 PM / 23 days ago

EU accepts coronavirus is mid-tier threat after lawmaker assurances

* EU classifies virus as mid-level risk, despite lack of treatment

* EU lawmakers withdraw threat to block decision

By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS, June 11 (Reuters) - EU lawmakers accepted on Thursday that the new coronavirus be considered a mid-level threat to workers, withdrawing their objections after the EU executive gave further guarantees on safety in the workplace.

The European Commission last week classified the virus as a level-3 hazard on a risk rating of up to four, drawing sharp criticism from Socialist and Green members of the European Parliament that worker health was being compromised.

The classification could affect the cost for companies of operating their businesses. Employers must still guarantee safety, but are less likely to face legal challenges in the case of infections if the virus is not classified as high risk.

Several lawmakers had planned to vote against the Commission’s proposal at a committee session on Thursday, which could have led the parliament to block it next week.

However, last-minute talks between the Commission and lawmakers produced a settlement.

EU Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said the Commission would urge encouraging EU governments to ensure all workers exposed to the virus receive written instructions on safety.

It would also seek to amend the law on biological agents to ensure all workplaces were better prepared for a future epidemic.

The compromise meant the motion to block the Commission was defeated by 35 votes to five, with 15 abstentions.

Under EU rules, a level-3 biological agent can cause severe disease and present a serious hazard to workers, but there is usually a preventative measure or treatment available. SARS and MERS are in this category.

Level-4 agents, which include the Ebola virus, pose a “high risk” of infection with no prevention or treatment.

There is currently no treatment to prevent or cure COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, which has killed over 400,000 people worldwide, according to a Reuters tally. (Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

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