European leaders are locking down coveted supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine, with fears growing Australia will likely never see the more than three million doses it ordered from the continent.
The European Union yesterday tightened vaccine export controls in a bid to ramp up its struggling inoculation campaign.
Under the EU’s new rules, the bloc’s European Commission executive will weigh how needy countries are as well as how readily they export doses to the EU before approving shipments.
“Open roads should run in both directions,” commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said.
Australia has already seen one international shipment of 250,000 doses cancelled by the Italian government.
Future supplies to ensure Australia receives its international order of 3.8 million doses will be abandoned for months, with health officials questioning if the doses will ever arrive.
The doses ordered from Europe were hopefully going to be used to kick off Australia’s vaccination campaign as we waited for local manufacturing of the AstraZeneca vaccine to be approved.
Local manufacturing of the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved was approved earlier this week.
In Europe, French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged that while the US had “looked to the stars” by pumping massive resources into vaccine procurement, the EU had been “a bit of a diesel engine … it starts slowly”.
“We were wrong to lack ambition,” Macron said, while insisting that “we are catching up”.
Around the world, 479 million vaccine doses have been administered, according to an AFP count from official sources, with the United Arab Emirates, Chile, Britain, Bahrain and the US far ahead of major European nations.
Inoculations are for now mostly limited to better-off countries as another AFP tally showed that more than 2.7 million people have died worldwide.
With Britain seen as one of the main targets of the EU’s new export rules, London and Brussels issued a joint statement Wednesday saying the neighbours were “working on specific steps … to create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply”.
But ahead of the declaration, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the bloc risked “long-term damage” to its reputation if it imposed “a blockade, or interruption of supply chains”.
In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel made a rare backtrack by scrapping plans for a strict Easter shutdown after a public outcry.
“This mistake is mine alone,” Merkel said.
“The whole process has caused additional uncertainty, for which I ask all citizens to forgive me.”
Germany is also weighing a temporary ban on certain trips abroad to help curb infections, a government spokeswoman said.
Neighbour Belgium said it would bring in a new partial lockdown for four weeks, closing schools and limiting access to non-essential shops as it seeks to quell a third wave.
And the Netherlands extended coronavirus restrictions until April 20 while France imposed new lockdown measures in three regions.
The Austrian capital Vienna and two neighbouring regions will be locked down tighter over Easter holidays, with only specific exceptions such as buying food and daily exercise.
Poland meanwhile recorded its highest daily infections with nearly 30,000 new cases.
– With Wires