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Thursday, April 15, 2021

EU moves toward stricter export controls for COVID vaccines

The EU's executive body said Wednesday on the eve of a summit of the 27 leaders that it has plan ready to that more vaccines produced in the bloc are available for its own citizens before they can be shipped for exports.

By: AP | Brussels |
Updated: March 24, 2021 9:39:20 pm
COVID-19, Coronavirus vaccine, AstraZeneca vaccine, EU covid vaccine, World news, European Union, Indian ExpressEuropean Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)

The European Union is moving toward stricter export controls to ensure more COVID-19 shot supplies for the bloc that should boost its flagging vaccine drive.

The EU’s executive body said Wednesday on the eve of a summit of the 27 leaders that it has plan ready to that more vaccines produced in the bloc are available for its own citizens before they can be shipped for exports.

EU nations have been specifically stung by the United Kingdom, which has received some 10 million doses from EU plants while they say nothing came back from Britain.

The EU now insists on reciprocity as it sees vaccination rates in Britain racing upwards, while the bloc proceeds at a crawl.

The EU has been specifically irked by Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca. Last week, the European Union’s chief executive warned that the EU would not hesitate to take action against third-party nations.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU has approved the export of some 41 million vaccine doses to 33 countries in the last six weeks and believes that it stands at the forefront of international vaccine-sharing efforts.

France hit by 3rd virus surge; culture minister in hospital

France’s high-profile culture minister has been hospitalized for COVID-19, the latest senior official to become ill as the nation faces a third surge of coronavirus infections, this one propelled by a highly contagious variant first found in Britain.

Roselyne Bachelot, 74, announced last weekend that she tested positive and her hospitalization was made public Wednesday, just as Employment Minister Elisabeth Borne left the hospital, tweeting “I’m relieved.”

The virus has been gaining steam in France, with ICUs in the Paris region, the north and southeast France bursting at the seams.

President Emmanuel Macron, infected months earlier but never hospitalized, announced Tuesday that France would accelerate its vaccination campaign, dropping eligibility from age 75 to 70. Mass inoculations are being set up all over France, some being staffed by firefighters.

“We haven’t had such a high number of hospital admittances in 24 hours since the beginning of the first wave,” the head of the public hospital system, Martin Hirsch, said Wednesday in a message to personnel.

France has counted over 93.000 virus-related deaths, and in the Paris region the rate of infection for 20- to 50-year-olds is above 700 for 100,000 inhabitants, and higher yet in the poor Seine-Saint-Denis region to the north and east, 800 for 100,000, according to Paris area health system chief Aurelien Rousseau. Doctors are reporting an increasing number of cases of young people without other health issues entering ICUs, he tweeted.

Bachelot, a former health minister and talk show regular, is considered one of France most popular ministers. Her hospitalization in a “stable” state made waves in the media. Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire and Trade Minister Franck Reister were infected in the past.

The French government’s cautious approach to fighting the virus and slow rollout of the vaccine have drawn criticism as infections spread. New measures that took effect last weekend have been called too confusing and too lax by many. While they banned most inter-regional travel, closed some shops and encouraged working at home, the word from Prime Minister Jean Castex was for the French to enjoy the spring weather and stay outdoors as much as possible.

Even the slogan for the new restrictions — “Inside with my own, outside like a citizen,” has been mocked — despite the fact that it rhymes in French.

Germany Drops Easter Shutdown Plan, Merkel Apologizes

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday dropped plans for a five-day shutdown in Germany over Easter, which had prompted confusion and criticism. She called the idea a mistake and apologized to Germans.

Merkel announced the decision after calling a hastily arranged videoconference on Wednesday with Germany’s 16 state governors, who are responsible for imposing and lifting restrictions. The same group had come up with the unexpected plan for deeper restrictions over Easter, which was announced early Tuesday.

The plan was to make Thursday next week — the day before Good Friday — a “rest day,” with all shops closed, and only allow supermarkets to open on Easter Saturday. Since the Friday and Monday are already holidays, that would have created a five-day shutdown of public life — on top of existing lockdown restrictions, which were extended through April 18.

The plan had raised many questions about logistical details, which remained unresolved, and also was criticized because there had been no public discussion of it before it emerged in the small hours of Tuesday following lengthy haggling.

“The idea of an Easter shutdown was drawn up with the best intentions, because we must urgently manage to slow and reverse the third wave of the pandemic,” Merkel said. “However, the idea … was a mistake — there were good reasons for it but it could not be implemented well enough in this short time.”

“This mistake is my mistake alone,” she told reporters. “A mistake must be called a mistake, and above all it must be corrected — and if possible, that has to happen it time.”

“At the same time, of course I know that this whole matter triggers more uncertainty — I regret that deeply and I apologize to all citizens,” she said.

Infection numbers in Germany have been rising again as the more contagious variant of the virus that was first detected in Britain has become dominant in the country.

Germany has registered more than 75,000 deaths since the outbreak of the pandemic a year ago. The country’s disease control center also reported 15,815 new infection cases in the past 24 hours on Wednesday — a week ago there were 13,435 new cases.

Merkel said that, even without the Easter shutdown, decisions she has taken with the state governors offer a “framework” to beat back the new wave of coronavirus infections.

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