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COVID-19

EU states seek summit on unfair vaccine handouts as AstraZeneca announce more delays

Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Latvia have called for a EU summit to discuss "huge disparities" in the distribution of vaccines, according to a letter published Saturday.

EU states seek summit on unfair vaccine handouts as AstraZeneca announce more delays
(Photo by JENS SCHLUETER / AFP)

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz suggested Friday that some members of the European Union may have signed “secret contracts” with vaccine companies to receive more doses than they were entitled to as per EU-wide agreements.

Kurz and his four counterparts on Friday sent a letter to Ursula Von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and Charles Michel, president of the European Council, claiming that “deliveries of vaccine doses by pharma companies to individual EU member states are not being implemented on an equal
basis.”

“If this system were to carry on, it would continue creating and exacerbating huge disparities among member states by this summer, whereby some would be able to reach herd immunity in a few weeks while others would lag far behind,” the letter said.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Photo: YVES HERMAN / AFP / POOL

“We therefore call on you… to hold a discussion on this important matter among leaders as soon as possible,” it said.

Kurz on Friday described “bazaars” where some member states made additional agreements with vaccine companies, but an EU spokesman said that it was up to members states to “ask less or more of a given vaccine.”

The Austrian health ministry also dismissed Kurz’s claims, reiterating the EU’s statement that each member state was allowed to say how many doses of the various vaccines it wanted to procure.

“These were very balanced and transparent negotiations,” Ines Stilling, general secretary of the Austrian health ministry, said in an interview with the public broadcaster Saturday.

The European Union has blamed its sluggish vaccine rollout on supply and delivery problems and continues to lag behind the United States, Israel and the United Kingdom in terms of the percentage of the population that has already received at least one dose.

READ ALSO: France will not halt use of AstraZeneca vaccine, says health minister

The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca announced a new shortfall in planned vaccine shipments to the European Union on Saturday, citing production problems and export restrictions.

“AstraZeneca is disappointed to announce a shortfall in planned COVID-19 vaccine shipments to the European Union (EU) despite working tirelessly to accelerate supply,” it said in a statement.

The company had previously warned it was facing shortfalls from its European supply chain due to “lower-than-expected output from the production process.”

It was hoping to compensate for part of the shortfall by sourcing vaccines from its global network, with half of the EU’s supply in the second quarter and 10 million doses in the first quarter due to come from its international supply chain.

READ ALSO: AstraZeneca suspension: Blood-clot risk ‘no higher in vaccinated people’

(Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

“Unfortunately, export restrictions will reduce deliveries in the first quarter, and are likely to affect deliveries in the second quarter,” it added.

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AstraZeneca started delivery of the vaccine to the EU in February, and still aims to deliver 100 million doses in the first half of 2021, of which 30 million are due to be delivered in the first quarter.

The under-fire firm said it was “collaborating with the EU Commission and member states to address the supply challenges.

“It remains confident that productivity in its EU supply chain will continue to improve, to help protect millions of Europeans against the virus.”

READ ALSO: Covid-19: Italy bans batch of AstraZeneca vaccine

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COVID-19 RULES

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now

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