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Covid: Italian PM brands vaccine delay ‘unacceptable’

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Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte says a delay in the supply of coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca is “unacceptable”.

Both companies have warned they will not be able to deliver vaccines to the EU as agreed due to production issues.

Mr Conte has accused them of serious contract violations.

A senior Italian health official has warned that the country will have to rethink its vaccination programme if supply issues continue.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed by Oxford University, has not yet been given EU approval; however the bloc’s drug regulator is expected to give it the green light at the end of this month.

A spokesman for AstraZeneca said on Friday that “initial volumes will be lower than originally anticipated” without giving further details.

Officials have not confirmed publicly how big the shortfall will be, but an unnamed EU official told Reuters news agency that deliveries would be reduced to 31m – a cut of 60% – in the first quarter of this year.

The drug firm had been set to deliver about 80m doses to the 27 nations by March, according to the official who spoke to Reuters.

Last week Pfizer announced it was slowing supplies to Europe to make manufacturing changes that will boost capacity. The EU has ordered 600 million doses from Pfizer.

On Saturday, Mr Conte wrote on Facebook: “Our vaccination plan … has been drawn up on the basis of contractual pledges freely undertaken by pharmaceutical companies with the European Commission.”

“Such delays in deliveries represent serious contractual violations, which cause enormous damage to Italy and other countries,” he added.

The head of Italy’s Higher Health Council Franco Locatelli said Pfizer deliveries were 29% lower than planned this week but the levels were expected to return to those agreed by 1 February.

Mr Conte vowed to use “all available legal tools”.

Poland has also vowed to take action over the delay.

What is happening elsewhere in Europe?

Austrian media have reported that only 600,000 of 2m AstraZeneca doses promised by the end of March will arrive in the country on time, with the remaining 1.4m now being delivered in April.

A delay would be “completely unacceptable”, Austrian Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said on Friday.

Hungary’s government, which has complained over the time it is taking EU regulators to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, has reached a deal with Russia to buy up large quantities of its Sputnik V vaccine, even though it has not received EU approval.

European Council President Charles Michel, who led a call with EU leaders this week, said on Thursday that officials were considering all ideas to try and stop future vaccine delays.

“All possible means will be examined to ensure rapid supply, including early distribution to avoid delays,” he said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Mr Michel both say they are still aiming for the target of 70% of the EU population being vaccinated by summer.

There has been criticism and frustration across the region about the speed of vaccination roll-outs.

Israel, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, and the US are all well ahead of EU nations in terms of doses given per capita so far.

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The European Commission has co-ordinated orders for all member states, with vaccines then distributed based on their population size.

Vaccines are seen by public health experts as an important part of a route out of the Covid-19 crisis, with many European nations struggling to cope with a deadly surge of the virus over the winter period.Presentational white space

Borders to remain open

The total number of German Covid-19 deaths climbed above 50,000 on Friday – a day after the country warned that it could close its borders if other EU countries were less strict in controlling the virus. Berlin sounded the alarm amid rising concern about new variants.

EU leaders agreed late on Thursday to keep their internal borders open but warned non-essential travel might need to be restricted to curb the spread of the virus.

Ms von der Leyen said Thursday that more testing and “targeted measures” were needed throughout the EU in order to keep internal and external borders open.

For its part, France said it would impose tighter travel restrictions for European arrivals from Sunday, requiring a negative PCR Covid test within three days of travel.

In the Netherlands, a ban on all flights from the UK, South Africa and South American countries came into effect on Saturday to try and prevent new coronavirus variants gaining a foothold.

Looking ahead to the future, officials from EU nations reliant on tourism – including Spain and Greece – have floated the possibility of using vaccination certificates to allow for cross-border travel but there has been scepticism within the bloc.

Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55780431

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Magdalena Andersson: Sweden’s first female PM returns after resignation

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bbc– Sweden’s first female prime minister has been reappointed to the top job after political turmoil forced her to resign within hours of taking the post last week.

MPs backed Social Democratic Party leader Magdalena Andersson by a narrow margin in a new vote on Monday.

She will attempt to lead a one-party government until an election in September next year.

She stood down as PM last Wednesday after her coalition collapsed.

Just hours earlier, Ms Andersson had been elected as Sweden’s first female prime minister by a single vote in parliament.

But the 54-year-old economist’s plan for forming a new coalition government with the Green Party was thrown into disarray when her budget proposal failed to pass.

  • Sweden’s first female PM resigns hours after appointment

Instead, parliament voted for a budget drawn up by a group of opposition parties, including the far-right Sweden Democrats.

The Green Party said it would not accept a budget drafted by the far-right and walked away from the government, leading to its demise.

By convention, the prime minister in Sweden is expected to resign if a coalition party leaves government.

In Monday’s vote in Sweden’s parliament, the Riksdag, 101 of its 349 members voted yes, 75 abstained and 173 voted no.

To be appointed prime minister under Sweden’s political system, a candidate only needs to avoid a majority voting against them.

At a news conference after the vote, Ms Andersson said she was ready to “take Sweden forward” with a programme focused on welfare, climate change and crime.

But without the support of other parties, Ms Andersson will struggle to pass legislation in parliament, where the centre-left Social Democrats hold 100 of 349 seats.

After a week of drama, Magdalena Andersson’s prime ministerial career is back on track, but Sweden’s political soap opera is far from over.

Ms Andersson still has to implement a budget put together by some of her right-wing rivals. Plus, she’s got to govern a fragile minority without the formal support of the Greens, who’ve been a crucial coalition partner since 2014.

All this has highlighted the complexities of having a deeply divided eight-party parliament. Some political commentators here are worried that Ms Andersson’s chaotic rise to power may have dented trust in the entire political system.

Once formed, Ms Andersson’s new government will remain in place until general elections, which are set to take place in September next year. Until then, she’s got just over nine months to prove herself to the public.

A former junior swimming champion from the university city of Uppsala, Ms Andersson began her political career in 1996 as political adviser to then-Prime Minister Goran Persson.

She has spent the past seven years as finance minister before becoming leader of the Social Democrats at the start of November.

She replaced Stefan Lofven, who resigned as prime minister after seven years in power.

Until Ms Andersson took over, Mr Lofven had remained prime minister of a caretaker government after being ousted in an unprecedented vote of no confidence in June.

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Covid: Europe region faces 700,000 more deaths by March – WHO

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bbc– A further 700,000 people could die of Covid by March in Europe and parts of Asia, the World Health Organization has warned.

The death toll already exceeds 1.5 million in the 53 countries of what the WHO terms as its Europe region.

The WHO warned of “high or extreme stress” in intensive care units in 49 of the nations by March 2022.

Europe is facing a surge in cases, prompting Austria to return to lockdown and others to consider fresh measures.

A number of countries – including France, Germany and Greece – could also soon make booster jabs a requirement for their citizens to be considered fully vaccinated.

But several countries have seen fierce protests against new measures. The Netherlands saw several nights of rioting over a partial lockdown.

In its assessment, the WHO warned Covid was the top cause of death in its Europe region.

“Cumulative reported deaths are projected to reach over 2.2 million by spring next year, based on current trends,” the WHO said on Tuesday.

Confirmed Covid-related deaths recently doubled to almost 4,200 a day, it added.

In Russia alone, the daily death toll has been recently topping 1,200.

A high number of unvaccinated people and the prevalence of the Delta variant in some countries were key factors behind high transmission rates in the Europe region, the WHO said.

The WHO Europe director, Dr Hans Kluge, urged those who were still unvaccinated to get the jab.

“All of us have the opportunity and responsibility to help avert unnecessary tragedy and loss of life, and limit further disruption to society and businesses over this winter season,” he said.

As well as European nations, the WHO also considers Israel and ex-Soviet states like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as making up the region.

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Liverpool bomb investigators ‘discovering more by the hour’ says security minister

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independent– Security minister Damian Hinds has said counterterrorism police are “discovering more by the hour” about the Liverpool attack, as he suggested it was “not impossible” others could have been involved.

His remarks come after police named the failed bomber who died in the Liverpool Women’s Hospital explosion as 32-year-old Emad al-Swealmeen and the UK’s terror threat was raised to “severe” from “substantial”.

Addressing the situation, Mr Hinds stressed it could be “weeks” before the full picture of the attack is known, including the motivation and whether others were involved.

“It’s a live investigation and the police do have the space, the time, to be able to conduct that investigation fully and carry on their searches of the key address and carry on with the analysis,” he told Times Radio.

He said: “It’s not impossible that there could be other people involved. If that is the case, as the police said in their statement last night, they’ll make arrests quickly.

“I’m not in a position to be able to comment on the background of the individual, the deceased individual or to speculate about the case.”

In a separate interview on Sky News, the minister also said the Covid pandemic and lockdowns may have “exacerbated” the number of people self-radicalising online — an issue previously highlighted by experts.

He said: “It certainly is true that we’ve seen a move over time, a shift from these what we call directed attacks, part of a bigger organisation where people are following instructions, sometimes quite complex in their organisation, and move from that to more self-directed, some self-radicalised individuals or small groups, rarely totally, totally alone.”

He added: “There has been that move. During the lockdown periods there have been more people spending more time in front of computer screens and we know that when that happens for a very small minority, a very very small minority, there can be radicalisation.

“I’m afraid it’s not brand now — radicalisation, self-radicalisation on the internet, the propaganda, the way people make contact with each other, that is not a new development, but like a number of things the changes we saw through the coronavirus period, through lockdown changed the modus operandi and this case yes they will have exacerbated and increased the amount of time people are spending online”.

But he defended the decision to reduce the terror threat in February when quizzed on the issue, saying: “The alert level is determined independently of ministers — it’s not something I determine, or the Home Secretary determines.

“We have a body JTAC — Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre — who are experts in this area. They use the alert level the way that law enforcement, security services and others can calibrate what they are doing.

“We’ve been at a high alert for a very long time now and that’s the important,” he added.

Asked again on why the alert level was changed despite the risk of people becoming radicalised online during the pandemic, he added: “The alert level was substantial, meaning an attack was likely.”

He added: “These are not decisions that I made or ministers mind. We trust professionals and experts in the field. My opinion is that I absolutely trust them to make those correct judgments. “

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