EU threatens to block jab exports

2021-03-27 12:05:30

COVID-19 vaccines donated by China arrive at the Carthage International Airport in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, on Thursday. [Photo/Agencies] Bloc hardens line, while Biden ups goal and more China doses go out BRUSSELS/KIEV, Ukraine-The European Union warned on Thursday that it would block certain coronavirus vaccine exports as authorities contend with a rise in infections. The bloc's assertiveness in shoring up vaccine supplies comes as US President Joe Biden doubled his goal for doses administered in the United States to reach 200 million by the end of April. British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca could be among the pharmaceutical companies hit first as EU chief Ursula von der Leyen warned that her bloc would not allow COVID-19 vaccine exports to the United Kingdom and other countries until the firms make good on their own promised deliveries. "I think it is clear that first of all the company (AstraZeneca) has to catch up, has to honor the contract it has with the European member states, before it can engage again in exporting vaccines," von der Leyen told a news conference. The focus of the latest row is an AstraZeneca plant in the Netherlands, which UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government claims as part of its vaccine supply chain. As the EU met via videoconference on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron aligned himself with von der Leyen, despite some countries'-including the Netherlands and Belgium-hesitancy to impose an embargo. In contrast to Europe's woes, vaccinations in the US-the world's top economy and hardest-hit country in the pandemic-have been storming ahead. That's emboldened Biden to raise the target for shots in arms during his first 100 days in office from 100 million to 200 million. "I know it's ambitious, twice our original goal," he told his first news conference as US president. The widening gap for vaccine access complicates the world's eventual exit from the pandemic through a global immunization drive, as third waves sweep through several countries and force governments to reimpose tough anti-virus restrictions. Among countries tightening up are Germany, Poland, France, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands. The pandemic has claimed more than 2.7 million lives worldwide. Timely support Central and Eastern Europe have been particularly hard-hit. Ukraine recorded 16,669 new COVID-19 cases over the latest 24-hour period-a fresh single-day record, Ukraine's Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said on Thursday. That night, a plane with the first batch of CoronaVac vaccine, produced by Chinese company Sinovac Biotech, arrived in the country. "Despite the fact that there is a huge shortage of vaccine on the world market, China is actively supporting Ukraine on its vaccination path, which is evidence of the strategic nature of the Sino-Ukrainian relations and deep traditional friendship between the two countries," said Chinese Ambassador to Ukraine Fan Xianrong. Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevhen Yenin thanked the Chinese government for the timely provision of the vaccine and assistance in countering the pandemic. Ukraine's Lekhim Group company, which has a contract with Sinovac on the distribution and localization of production in Ukraine, is to deliver 1.9 million doses under a contract with the Ministry of Health. In Africa, Tunisia received on Thursday a batch of COVID-19 vaccines donated by China. "China is the first country to provide a vaccine donation for Tunisia," Chinese Ambassador to Tunisia Zhang Jianguo said at the Carthage International Airport in the capital Tunis. Tunisian Minister of Health Faouzi Mehdi expressed gratitude to China for sending "large quantities of Sinovac vaccine against COVID-19 as a donation". "It will be of great benefit to us to speed up the vaccination process," the minister said. And in the Maldives, the first batch of vaccines against COVID-19 and anti-epidemic materials donated by China to the Indian Ocean country arrived on Wednesday night, with a handover on Thursday. The donation was a sign of the bonds of friendship between China and the Maldives and the donation fulfills China's commitment to making the vaccines a global public good, said Chinese Ambassador to the Maldives Zhang Lizhong. Agencies - Xinhua