Brussels has set aside €220 million to transfer Covid-19 patients from hard-hit member states to neighbours with spare hospital beds, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said today.

Speaking after a videoconference with the 27 EU leaders, including Micheál Martin, Ms von der Leyen called for European capitals to pool coronavirus data as "the good use of the money requires good information in exchange".

The leaders heard calls for greater coordination in their responses to the epidemic, which is once again sweeping over Europe in a second-wave rapidly outpacing the original disaster in March and April.

They were urged not to close their borders to each other, but to work together to share the best techniques for controlling the virus and prepare the distribution of an eventual vaccine.

According to her spokesman, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel told the leaders that "a coordinated European approach is of great importance in combating the pandemic.

"Especially for Germany, as a country in the middle of Europe, it is important that the borders remain open, that there is a functioning economic cycle and that we fight the pandemic together," she said.

Ms von der Leyen, herself an academic epidemiologist before going into German politics, said "massive testing" would be key to getting through the crisis and called on EU states to adopt joint standards for rapid antigen testing.

"This will then enable us to describe the optimal setting for the different forms of tests," she said. 

"And it will enable us for a mutual recognition of test results across the European Union. And that of course is important mainly when essential travel is taking place."

In a tweet, the Netherlands' premier Mark Rutte said there had been "good discussion" and "though each country organises their own healthcare system, we must work together where we can."

The informal videoconference, hosted by European Council president Charles Michel, is supposed to become a semi-regular forum for EU leaders to coordinate their response over the coming months.

Face-to-face EU summits have been scaled back or postponed amid fears that senior officials will be exposed or spread the virus further, with Belgium, and Brussels in particular, badly hit.

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Today's videoconference came as the second wave of the virus takes firm hold in Europe with a big increase in infections, hospitalisations and deaths.

France is introducing a four-week nationwide lockdown starting tomorrow, and Germany is closing all bars, restaurants and other social venues until the end of next month.

Desperate to avoid the mistakes and divisions of the first wave, EU leaders were seeking to coordinate the purchase and development of testing kits, including rapid antibody tests which could help identify clusters of infections more quickly.

Charles Michel wants countries to speed up vaccination plans to ensure that the first limited doses, should they become available, can be distributed quickly to those most in need.

The European Commission estimates that not enough vaccine shots would be available to inoculate the entire EU population of 450 million before 2022. Leaders will aim to establish a clear definition of priority groups.

Member states are also being asked to mutually recognise each other's tests, and to ensure that national contact tracing apps be interoperable across the bloc to ensure that as much necessary travel can continue where possible.

Of the 19 countries which are developing apps, just three - Ireland, Italy and Germany - have apps that are capable of connecting to each other's national systems.

Additional reporting: Tony Connelly