Case study

Towards a Euroregional and European policy in times of crisis

Project “Impact of COVID-19 on the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion”

An important goal of the project “Impact of COVID-19 on the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion” is to contribute to a more uniform Euroregional and European policy during health crises. “There are currently few cross-border regions conducting large-scale studies like this one, so the World Health Organisation is very interested in what we’re doing here”, says project leader Christian Hoebe.

Christian Hoebe is a professor of Infectious Disease Control at CAPHRI and head of the Department of Sexual Health, Infectious Diseases and Environmental Health at Public Health Service South Limburg. The Euroregional study was prompted by the differences in policy responses to COVID-19 between the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, ranging from requiring travellers to present a negative test result at the border to varying face-mask policies. “Especially in the early days of the pandemic, the policy responses of these three countries were rather different. This doesn’t affect people who live in a city like Utrecht, but it does affect the people living in cross-border regions.”

  • Period: 1 August 2020 – end of 2021
  • This project has received funding from: Interreg Euregio Meuse-Rhine
  • Project website: www.euprevent.eu/COVID

The study has received an Interreg Europe grant of one million euros. It was launched in August 2020 and will run until the end of 2021. A representative sample of citizens of the three countries were invited to participate. About 3500 citizens of each country will complete a digital questionnaire and take a simple blood sample at home. Their blood will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies. A second round of questions and tests will follow after the summer, when many more people will have been vaccinated.

The researchers aim to determine the prevalence of COVID-19 in the three countries that comprise the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion and the differences between them. The study will also provide insight into people’s willingness to be vaccinated, their compliance with infection prevention measures, the effects of the pandemic on their social networks, and how long the symptoms of the disease last. These data are of great social relevance. “They’ll be of interest to policymakers and may contribute to the harmonisation of Euroregional and European policy”, expects Christian Hoebe.

Cooperation within the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion

In the study, Maastricht University, Public Health Service South Limburg, euPrevent and Sciensano (the Belgian institute for health) are working together with German health authorities and the Ministry of the German-speaking Community of Belgium. Initially, not all of these parties were equally willing to participate, especially because of the time investment required. This is understandable, says Christian Hoebe. “Many of them were focused on the direct fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.” He is pleased with the fact that all parties ended up participating. “We quickly agreed on the focus of the study. The biggest challenge was to resolve procedural, legal, and medical-ethical issues. Conducting cross-border research together and bringing our data together seemed virtually impossible. It took us a lot of time to meet all the requirements, which delayed the study by months. But we did it.”

Spin-off

The problems encountered by the researchers led to a spin-off study. The aim of this new study, led by euPrevent, will be to create a kind of blueprint to make cross-border research easier.

Text: Karin Burhenne

Contact 

Principal Investigator: Prof.dr. Christian Hoebe
christian.hoebe[at]ggdzl[dot]nl

In the media

  • Stay home Euregio

    Million euro grant for euregional corona research

    Monday, August 3, 2020

    Maastricht University, GGD South-Limburg and the health services in neighbouring Belgium and Germany were granted an Interreg subsidy of 955,000 euros for a large Euregional COVID-19 study. (Article in Dutch)

    Read more
  • Vlaggen Euregio

    The GGD at the border calls German colleagues three times a day

    Friday, February 28, 2020

    Language, protocols, organisations and more differences in a border-crossed area, where one and the same virus emerges. Controlling the virus is therefore more complex, but cooperation is gradually growing (article in Dutch).

    Read more

Involved partners

  • euPrevent

  • GGD South-Limburg

  • Sciensano

  • Maastricht UMC+

  • Gesundheidsamt des Kreises Heinsberg

  • Gesundheidsamt Düren

  • Gesundheidsamt der StädteRegion Aachen

  • Deutschsprachige Gemeinschaft Belgiens

The citizens of these three countries no longer experience any borders between them, which means that we as professionals must also be able to work ‘without borders’. In a cross-border region like the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion, it’s especially important to have good relationships with your immediate neighbours. So, let’s work together and face these challenges together.
Brigitte van der Zanden, euPrevent
Logo partners COVID Euregio

Research team

  • Prof.dr. Christian Hoebe, Professor of Social Medicine and Infectious Disease Control, head Department of Social Medicine, Maastricht University and head Department of Sexual Health, Infectious Diseases and Environmental Health, GGD South-Limburg
  • Brigitte van de Zanden, director Euprevent

  • Stephanie Brinkhues, post-doc Department of Social Medicine, Maastricht University en GGD South-Limburg

  • Paul Savelkoul, professor and head Department of Medical Microbiology, Maastricht University

  • Inge van Loo, consultant microbiologist, Department of  Medical Microbiology, Maastricht University 

  • Danielle Hanssen, medical microbiologist (in-residence) and PhD candidate  

  • Demi Pagen, PhD candidate Department of Social Medicine, Maastricht University en GGD South-Limburg

  • Stefaan Demarest, senior epidemiologist, Sciensano, Belgium

  • Dirk Philipsen, Gesundheidsamt Düren, Germany

  • Karl-Heinz Grimm, Gesundheidsamt des Kreises Heinsberg, Germany

  • Celine Bilsen, junior researcher GGD South-Limburg

  • Chrissy Moonen, junior researcher GGD South-Limburg

  • Nicole Dukers, senior epidemiologist Maastricht University en GGD South-Limburg

Involved research line

  • Health Inequities and Societal Participation

Our most important societal relevance output

Burgertop EUprevent
  • Several citizens’ summits funded by the Interreg VA EMR project “euPrevent COVID” will be organized in various border regions (Aachen, Düren, Eupen, Hasselt, Heinsberg, Liège and Maastricht). The goal of these citizens’ summits is to give the citizens living in border regions the opportunity to exchange their personal experiences during the corona time.

Our most important scientific output

Video "Cross-border Covid-19 control"

Presentation (in Dutch) by Christian Hoebe at the online Kick-off euPrevent SHE meeting on 28 January 2021

Slide EUprevent Hoebe