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Germany lays ‘new foundation’ in Havana

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday kicked off a two-day visit to Cuba aimed at relaunching full ties with Havana, against the backdrop of the thaw in US-Cuban relations.

Germany lays 'new foundation' in Havana
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier takes a tour of Old Havana. Photo: DPA

Steinmeier – the first German foreign minister to visit the communist-ruled island nation since German reunification in 1990 – signed a series of political and economic agreements on day one of his trip.

Steinmeier welcomed the advent “of a new foundation for relations” between the two countries, according to state-run website Cubadebate.cu.

Steinmeier and his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez signed a joint declaration on cooperation and a memorandum on establishing a consultation mechanism between their ministries.

Also on Thursday, Steinmeier met with Havana Archbishop Jaime Ortega and toured parts of Havana's historic old city.

He also is scheduled to meet with several other ministers, business leaders and artists during his stay, but has no appointments with Cuban dissidents, according to his official schedule.

Cuba and Germany have remained trade partners despite strained political relations, with bilateral trade totaling €390 million in 2013, according to the latest available data.

Germany sent 124,000 visitors to Cuba in 2014 – fewer only than Canada and Britain.

The only other post-reunification visit to Cuba by a German minister came in 2001, when the then economy minister Werner Muller visited, according to German news agency DPA.

The European Union suspended relations with Cuba in 2003 over a crackdown on journalists and activists, but it began talks to restore them in April last year, aiming to persuade Havana to improve its rights record.

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VACCINE

German President Steinmeier receives AstraZeneca jab

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday received the first dose of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine, just two days after authorities recommended use of the controversial jab only for people aged 60 and over.

German President Steinmeier receives AstraZeneca jab
Steinmeier received the vaccine Berlin's Military Hospital on Thursday. Photo: DPA

“I trust the vaccines authorised in Germany,” Steinmeier, 65, said in a statement after getting inoculated at Berlin’s Military Hospital.

“Vaccinating is the decisive step on the path out of the pandemic. Use the opportunities available. Join in!” he added.

German officials have been at pains to shore up public confidence in AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which has been on a rollercoaster ride in Europe.

Germany’s STIKO vaccine commission on Tuesday said it recommended use of the jab only for people 60 and older following concerns over several blood clotting cases among younger recipients of the vaccine.

People under the age of 60 can still take AstraZeneca in consultation with their doctor and if they are fully aware of the potential risks.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why has Germany restricted the use of AstraZeneca in under 60s?

German Health Minister Jens Spahn, who is 40 years old, told reporters Thursday that he would be willing to take AstraZeneca “when it’s my turn”.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has also said she is up for the Anglo-Swedish company’s vaccine when it is her turn.

Efforts to talk up the jab’s effectiveness among elderly people were undermined by 71-year-old Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who told the topselling Bild daily he had no plans to take AstraZeneca.

“The answer to Jens Spahn’s appeal (to the elderly) is no,” Seehofer said, adding that he had nothing against AstraZeneca but didn’t want to be “patronised”.

Several other countries, including France, Spain and Canada, have also imposed age limits on the AstraZeneca shot over the occurrence of rare but very severe blood clots.

The European Medicines Agency on Wednesday said experts probing links between AstraZeneca’s vaccine and the rare reports of clotting have found no specific risk factors, but are investigating further.

The World Health Organization has also said that the AstraZeneca shot is safe.

READ ALSO: AstraZeneca vaccine ‘safe and effective’ against Covid-19, European Medical Agency concludes

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