AstraZeneca’s EU vaccine shipments will be delayed, the EU’s health commissioner said, in yet another obstacle to the bloc’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout.
“The EU Commission and Member States expressed deep dissatisfaction with this,” Stella Kyriakides tweeted on Friday after member states heard from AstraZeneca representatives.
The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is expected to receive approval from the European Medicines Agency this week, and any delay or shortage of doses could be a significant speed bump as member states race to vaccinate their populations amid a worsening COVID-19 crisis.
The emergence of more transmissible variants of coronavirus has caused significant concern in Europe with the UK reporting record daily hospitalisations and deaths due to the virus mutations.
Johnson warned on Friday that early evidence showed the new variant could be more deadly as well.
Countries are racing against the clock to vaccinate as many people as possible before the variants spread further.
But Pfizer said just last week that fewer doses would be available in the EU in late January and early February due to quality tests at the manufacturing plant in Belgium.
Some EU countries have since had to cut vaccinations amid the delays, prompting criticism of the pharmaceutical companies behind the vaccines.
Domenico Arcuri, Italy’s coronavirus commissioner, said that vaccinations had been cut from 80,000 a day to 28,000 a day, Italian media reported. He said Italian authorities were considering taking legal action against Pfizer, AP reported.
Authorities in Germany’s most populous state said that due to delays in delivery of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine they would halt first vaccinations. North Rhine Westphalia had received 100,000 vaccine doses less than originally planned, the state said.
Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn said that “we are currently in a phase in which the worldwide demand for corona vaccines is very high.”
Member states agreed on Thursday that vaccine deliveries should be coordinated and distributed at the same time after the bloc’s most recent Steering Committee meeting, where vaccinations are discussed.
“We are determined to provide more predictability and stability to the delivery process, and we look forward to more vaccines and more doses coming on stream soon,” Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said on Thursday.
She also called for more testing and increases in sequencing amid the more transmissible mutations of the virus.
It comes as the bloc urged member states to speed up vaccinations, setting an ambitious goal to vaccinate 70% of the EU population by summer 2021. By March, the EU commission says they hope that 80% of vulnerable individuals and healthcare workers can be vaccinated.
In order to speed things along, countries have in some cases delayed second doses as much as possible and begun pulling sixth doses from a vaccine dial instead of five, in accordance with the EU regulator’s recommendation.
Some EU member states secure vaccines outside of bloc
However, some EU states appeared to also go rogue recently in terms of vaccine procurement, a move EU officials said was unnecessary as the bloc had secured enough vaccines for the entire EU population.
Hungary’s foreign minister said the country had procured two million doses of the Russian coronavirus vaccine.
They are the only EU country to approve the vaccine, Sputnik V, which has not been approved by the European Medicines Agency.
Foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said the vaccines will arrive in three stages, with the first doses delivered within a month.
A Commission spokesperson told Euronews prior to Hungary’s announcement that “member states may have a separate negotiation if it’s about a vaccine that’s not covered by the portfolio if it’s with a company that we are not having negotiations with.”
Germany’s government, meanwhile, said in a statement to Euronews that it had bilateral negotiations with some pharmaceutical companies that would not impact the EU vaccine agreement.
It remains unclear, however, if vaccine doses secured bilaterally by the country would arrive before or after doses as part of EU contracts and whether those negotiations were outside the joint member state negotiations.
Ursula von der Leyen offers speedy response to Ukraine’s bid to join EU
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the civilian deaths in the Ukrainian town of Bucha showed the “cruel face” of Russia’s army and pledged to try to speed Ukraine’s bid to become a member of the European Union.
During a visit to Bucha on Friday, where forensic investigators started to exhume bodies from a mass grave, Von der Leyen looked visibly moved by what she saw in the town northwest of Kyiv where Ukrainian officials say hundreds of civilians were killed by Russian forces.
Russia denies targeting civilians and has called the allegations that Russian forces executed civilians in Bucha while they occupied the town a “monstrous forgery”.
As EU officials were about to arrive in Kyiv, at least 50 people were killed and many more wounded in a missile strike at a railway station packed with civilians fleeing the threat of a major Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine.
At a news conference, Von der Leyen condemned what she called “the cynical behaviour” of those who wrote “for our children” on the weapons found near the scene.
Saying the EU could never match the sacrifice of Ukraine, Von der Leyen offered it a speedier start to its bid for bloc membership.
Handing the president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a questionnaire which will form a starting point for a decision on membership, she said: “It will not as usual be a matter of years to form this opinion but I think a matter of weeks.”
Zelenskiy told the same news conference he would come back with answers in a week.
“Russia will descend into economic, financial and technological decay, while Ukraine is marching towards the European future, this is what I see,” Von der Leyen said.
Earlier in Bucha, she told reporters: “The unthinkable has happened here. We have seen the cruel face of Putin’s army. We have seen the recklessness and the cold-heartedness with which they have been occupying the city.”
Von der Leyen’s trip to Kyiv was aimed at offering Zelenskiy moral and some financial support.
She pledged her support for Ukraine to “emerge from the war as a democratic country”, something, she said, the European Union and other donors would help with.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, said he hoped the EU could allocate a further €500m (£420m) to Ukraine for arms purchases in a couple of days.
Zelenskiy has urged Brussels to do more to punish Russia, including banning purchases of Russian oil and gas, and has called on the EU to accept Ukraine as a full member.
Earlier, Borrell said oil sanctions were “a big elephant in the room“, with some concerns that a move to cut out Russian crude could cause a spike in prices that would be painful to European economies. He said a decision on exports would be raised on Monday in Brussels.
Dutch officials drop case against Rijksmuseum over ‘racist’ word
The director of the Rijksmuseum said he was “happy” as Dutch prosecutors announced they would not proceed with an investigation into complaints over a newly opened exhibition on Indonesian independence, the first of its kind in Europe.
The exhibition, Revolusi! Indonesia Independent, at the Netherlands’ national museum, has been a source a controversy since one of its curators, Bonnie Triyana, said the term “bersiap”, or stand by, would not be used in reference to the violent upheaval that followed a declaration of independence from the Dutch state.
Triyana claimed that use of the word, a battle cry for young Indonesians seeking independence, “takes on a strongly racist connotation” in the Netherlands today that “always portrays primitive, uncivilised Indonesians as perpetrators of the violence”. He said: “The team of curators has decided not to use the word bersiap as a common term referring to the violent period in Indonesia.”
In a sign of the ongoing sensitivity in Dutch society over the country’s colonial history, the comments drew a furious response in some quarters, with the head of the Federation of Dutch Indonesians, Hans Moll, accusing the Rijksmuseum of genocide denial by ignoring that “thousands of Dutch people were brutally tortured, raped and murdered by Indonesians because of their Dutch or European ethnicity”.
Complaints were made to the general prosecutor last month but Taco Dibbits, the Rijksmuseum’s director, said he had learned on the eve of the exhibition’s opening on Thursday that the justice ministry would not be proceeding with the case.
“I’m happy and had expected the decision that the case is not viable,” he said. “But I think it is very good that there is discussion about these concepts. It is our duty to broaden our view of history.”
Dibbits said the exhibition did make reference to the term bersiap but put it in the context of violence endured by a large range of people, and that the show explored the entire period from 1945 to 27 December 1949 when the Dutch withdrew.
He said: “The term ‘bersiap’ is used in the Netherlands by different communities that had to flee Indonesia and were repatriated during the revolution. It marks a very specific moment in time in the four and a half years of the revolution, the moment of the fall of 1945, when Indonesia has just declared itself independent and groups of insurgents executed extreme violence against several groups: Indo-Europeans, Moluccans on the Dutch side, and Chinese and others they thought were on the Dutch side. It takes place in the chaos just after the declaration of independence.
“We explain the source of the word, which started to be used in the Netherlands in the 1980s, and give it a historical context, but also speak about the violence against other groups during the revolution. We speak about violence in a much broader sense.”
Dibbits said he felt it was a “pity” that complaints had been made to the prosectors before the exhibition had opened. A second complaint, which is also not being pursued, was filed with prosecutors after Dibbits clarified before the opening that the bersiap concept would be referenced.
Dibbits said: “One claimed that not using the term was against history and the second complaint said the using of the term was against history.”
Indonesia became a member of the United Nations in 1950 and today the country counts about 270 million inhabitants across more than 17,000 islands.
The exhibition explores the personal stories of independence fighters, artists, diplomats, politicians, journalists and those seeking to maintain Dutch hold over the territory by displaying more than 200 objects, including privately owned keepsakes and paintings.
Dibbits said among the most powerful artefacts was a bundle of baby clothes made out of book covers, belonging to a young woman called Julia Nelisse. She had given birth to a daughter, Merani, in a leper colony in Pelantungan, modern-day Java, on 6 September 1947.
Corpses of fighters and civilians were regularly washing up on the river shore, which Nelisse laid out on cloth shrouds. Due to the lack of remaining cloth, she had to take the covers from books in the abandoned colony library to make into clothes. On show is a vest, a pillow and a nappy. “It is very emotional to see and brings it very close,” Dibbits said.
Heidelberg shooting: One dead in gun attack on German students
A lone gunman has killed one person and seriously injured three others inside a lecture hall at Heidelberg University in the south-west of Germany, before shooting himself dead.
He was an 18-year-old German student.
German police said the shooter, who was armed with two guns, had used a “long gun”, and fired shots around the amphitheatre “wildly”.
The bloodshed triggered a large operation at the university’s campus in the Neuenheimer Feld area.
Police asked people to avoid the area so rescue workers and emergency services could move around freely.
German media reported that the gunman appeared to have no religious or political motive.
Police have searched his flat in the city of Mannheim, and found a WhatsApp message he had sent shortly beforehand, in which he spoke of punishing people.
Heidelberg is a university town with about 160,000 inhabitants.
The country has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe, and school shootings are rare. Anyone under 25 is required to pass a psychological evaluation before getting a gun licence.
Police initially said four victims had been wounded, with a later update confirming one had died in hospital.
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