Controversy continues over the classification of the coronavirus.

SW – 10/2020

In June, MEPs of the European Parliament's Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) and the European Commission agreed to classify SARS-CoV-2 as a biological agent under risk group 3 with additional guarantees to protect the health and safety of workers (see report 6/2020). The amendment to Directive 2000/54/EC on the protection of workers from risks related to exposure to biological agents at work entered into force on 24th June 2020 and must be implemented by the Member States by 24th November 2020.

A Spanish union of carers (Sindicato de Enfermería - SATSE) has filed a complaint at the European Courts of Justice against this. SATSE seeks the annulment of the classification of SARS-CoV-2 under risk group 3. There is no effective treatment or preventive measure against the biological agent SARS-CoV-2. Although the Commission recognised that there was no vaccination and no effective treatment, SARS-CoV-2 was classified under risk group 3 instead of risk group 4, notwithstanding the provisions of Article 2 of the Directive.

Article 2 of the Directive defines group 3 biological agents as those substances, which may cause serious illness in humans and pose a serious risk to workers and which, although there is a risk of spreading to the population, can normally be effectively prevented or treated. Agents in the highest risk group 4 are those which cause serious illness in humans and pose a serious risk to workers but for which the risk of spreading to the population may be high and for which effective prevention or treatment normally is not possible. 

According to the applicant, SARS-CoV-2 is a virus classified as highly contagious and mutating – the risk of spreading in the population may be high. SARS-CoV-2 causes serious illness and symptoms, serious human illness and poses a serious risk to workers. It remains to be seen how the European Court of Justice will rule on this matter.


Some members of the EMPL Committee had already called for the virus to be classified under the highest risk group 4 in order to ensure the highest level of protection of workers in terms of their health and safety. At the Committee meeting, the acting Commissioner, Nicolas Schmit, had been able to meet the MEPs' concerns by promising that the EU Commission would call on the Member States to ensure that all workers exposed to SARS-CoV-2 were given written instructions when working with a group 4 biological agent – as required by the Directive.