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.
European Parliamentarians worried about Women’s rights in the UAE
Cyrus Engerer (S&D) MEP expressed concern about the status of women rights in UAE. He sent an urgent question to the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
He said that Women in the UAE face continued discrimination. For example, the Personal Status Law of 2005 states that ‘a husband’s rights over his wife’ include the wife’s ‘courteous obedience to him’ (Article 56), and places conditions on a married woman’s right to work or leave the house (Article 72).
His question started that, “Under Article 356 of the Penal Code, ‘debasement of honour with consent’ is punishable by one year or more in prison. On the basis of this law, a Swedish-run hospital in Ajman Emirate was forced to report pregnant, unmarried women to the police. In some cases these referrals have led to prosecution and deportation, according to Amnesty International.”
“Additionally, under Article 53 of the Code, ‘a husband’s discipline of his wife’ is ‘considered an exercise of rights’, language that can be read as an official sanction of spousal abuse.” Said the question
He added that; However, in 2019, the VP/HR said ‘We always welcome the UAE’s policies … as well as its overall advancement, particularly in the areas of development, youth and women’s empowerment, social communication, tolerance and coexistence.’
The MEP concluded with two key questions about
- What improvements have there been since this statement on women’s human rights in the UAE?
- Does the VP/HR plan to address this issue in the future?
Denmark asylum: Law passed to allow offshore asylum centres
Denmark has passed legislation allowing it to relocate asylum seekers to third countries outside the European Union while their cases are reviewed.
The project, proposed by the Social Democrat-led government, would seek partner countries to run camps and fund agencies along migration routes.
But the European Commission said it had concerns about the law, and a leading NGO said it was irresponsible.
Denmark has repeatedly tightened its immigration policies in recent years.
This follows a peak of more than 21,000 asylum seekers arriving in Denmark in 2015.
MPs voted for the bill by 70 votes to 24.
“If you apply for asylum in Denmark, you know that you will be sent back to a country outside Europe, and therefore we hope that people will stop seeking asylum in Denmark,” said government spokesman Rasmus Stoklund, quoted by Reuters news agency.
The asylum cases would be reviewed in the third country and the applicant could potentially be given protection in that country.
But the European Commission was critical of the law.
“External processing of asylum claims raises fundamental questions about both the access to asylum procedures and effective access to protection,” said spokesman Adalbert Jahnz, quoted by Reuters news agency.
The Danish Refugee Council (DRC), a leading NGO, said in a statement that MPs had “effectively voted in the blind”, as the model they had backed did not yet exist.
“The idea to externalise the responsibility of processing asylum seekers’ claims is both irresponsible and lacking in solidarity. We have repeatedly called on the Danish members of parliament to reject this bill,” it said.
The council added that there was now a risk of countries hosting larger numbers of refugees would also opt out.
Denmark recently signed a migration deal with Rwanda leading to speculation that it intends to open a facility there.
Two weeks ago it became the first European country to revoke residence status for more than 200 Syrian refugees.
Danish authorities say parts of Syria are safe enough to return to but the move has sparked protests from activists and community groups.
Last year the UK considered building an asylum processing centre on Ascension Island, a remote territory in the Atlantic Ocean, but decided not to proceed.
Australia has also caused controversy in recent years with its use of camps for processing asylum seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-57343572
Russia to pull troops back from near Ukraine
After weeks of tension over a build-up of Russian troops close to Ukraine’s border, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has ordered a number of units in the area back to their bases.
The EU estimated that more than 100,000 Russian soldiers had amassed near the border as well as in Crimea, which was seized and annexed by Russia in 2014.
Speaking in Crimea, Mr Shoigu said units on exercise would return to base.
The aims of the “snap checks” had been achieved, he added.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who earlier challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet him in the conflict zone, welcomed the decision to “de-escalate” tensions at the border.
“The troops have demonstrated their ability to provide a credible defence for the country,” the Russian defence minister said, adding that he had instructed the commanders of units from the 58th and 41st armies as well as several airborne divisions to start returning to their permanent bases on Friday and to complete the operation by 1 May.
President Zelensky raised the troop build-up with European leaders last week. Ukraine’s armed forces chief said Russian military units had been moving into the Rostov, Bryansk and Voronezh regions as well as Crimea, while battalion tactical groups were stationed on the border.
Following Mr Shoigu’s announcement, Nato said that any move towards reversing the escalation would be “important and well overdue”. It added that the Western military alliance remained vigilant.
Nato leaders have called a summit in June when Russia will be high on the agenda.
Although Russia has shrugged off the build-up as training exercises in response to “threatening” actions from Nato, it is also said to be planning to cordon off areas of the Black Sea to foreign shipping. Ukraine fears its ports could be affected.
Russia said all along that these were nothing more than military exercises.
But Moscow knew very well that its troop movements close to Ukraine and in annexed Crimea were making a lot of people very nervous: in Ukraine, Europe and in America.
And that was the point.
Moscow may well have been using the build-up of troops to send a signal to Kyiv, Brussels and, especially, to Washington that Russia is a force to be reckoned with.
US President Joe Biden took notice. Last week, he telephoned President Putin and proposed a summit. True, he also imposed a new round of sanctions over Russia’s “malign activity”. But inside Russia these were perceived as not particularly tough.
A reduction in tension, however, does not mean the end of tension. Russia’s defence minister has made it clear that “Russia is taking measures in response to threats from Nato”.
For example, Moscow is planning to block areas of the Black Sea to foreign shipping for six months.
In a state-of-the-nation address on Wednesday, President Putin warned the West against “crossing a red line”.
Speaking to reporters after the order for troops to return to base, Mr Putin said as far as bilateral relations were concerned “we are ready to welcome the president of Ukraine at any time that is convenient for him”, but in Moscow.
However, he stressed if Mr Zelensky wanted to discuss eastern Ukraine, then he should first meet the leaders there.
Conflict in eastern Ukraine broke out in 2014, after the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. Russian-backed troops captured large areas of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions and declared them both peoples’ republics.
There have been a number of breaches of a ceasefire in the east in recent weeks. A Ukrainian soldier was fatally wounded in shelling on Thursday, in what Ukrainian forces said was a deliberate violation of the ceasefire. Some 14,000 people have died since the conflict began.
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