European Union leaders will hold a virtual summit this afternoon on the coronavirus emergency, with the agenda being dominated by questions of how to restore the EU to eventual economic normality, and how to mobilise huge levels of financial support to help the most vulnerable member states tackle the crisis.

President of the European Council, Charles Michel, has called for a Marshall Plan-style response, echoing the financial support shown to Europe by the United States following the devastation of World War II.

However, member states remain divided over what kind of support should be used.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has co-signed a letter with eight other member states, including France, Italy and Spain, for the EU to issue what have been called "coronabonds", but Germany, the Netherlands and other countries remain opposed.

Europe remains the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic with thousands of deaths reported and infection rates soaring.

The EU has been accused of lacking coordination and even solidarity, the very touchstone of European integration.

Leaders are now desperate to show they are responding effectively, not just in dealing with the immediate crisis, but also in steering the continent back to normality, and, more importantly, learning the lessons.

The European Central Bank has already promised to spend an extra €750 billion in the secondary markets to ensure borrowing costs for stricken countries do not soar.

But divisions remain over how the EU should pour stimulus money into national economies to support health services and repair the damage caused by the sudden slump in normal economic activity.

The European Stability Mechanism, the post-financial crisis bailout fund, has made €410bn available for emergency credit lines, but Ireland and eight other countries want what is called a mutualised debt instrument which would allow the EU to borrow virtually unlimited amounts on behalf of member states to deal with the crisis.

A Government spokesman said this idea could play a positive role, but fiscally minded countries fear this could lead to moral hazard, meaning they would be on the hook for the debts of other member states.

Leaders are expected to agree ways to ensure Europe has a proper stockpile of ventilators and protective equipment, and to ensure extra funding is rushed to the research sector, as the race to find a vaccine intensifies.