EU plans tough export controls

Thursday, March 25th, 2021 00:00 | By
A nurse takes care of a Covid-19 patient in the Covid-19 intensive care unit of the university hospital. Photo/AFP

Brussels, Wednesday

The European Commission is to call for tougher controls on Covid vaccine exports after it accused UK-Swedish firm AstraZeneca of failing to honour its contract to supply EU countries.

The proposals, to go before EU leaders on Thursday, stop short of a ban but could enflame tensions with the UK.

Under the plans any shipment of vaccine would be assessed on the country’s rate of vaccinations and vaccine exports.

Meanwhile, millions of AZ doses have reportedly been found in Italy.

La Stampa website says some 29 million vaccine doses due to be shipped to the UK were being stored at the Catalent plant in Anagni near Rome but were discovered by Italian inspectors as part of an investigation by the European Commission.

‘Fill and finish’

When asked by the BBC about the report, the foreign ministry in Rome and the Italian prime minister’s office refused to comment.

The plant has a contract with AstraZeneca to “fill and finish” its vaccines and is set to do the same for the Johnson  & Johnson vaccine, also approved for use in the EU.

The reported discovery comes weeks after the Italian government blocked the export of 250,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia, as part of new EU regulations allowing a shipment to be stopped if a company is seen as failing to meet its obligations to the 27 member states.

The latest proposals, which go further than January’s regulations, come as EU countries try to speed up Covid vaccination campaigns after a sluggish start, blamed partly on delayed deliveries of the AZ drug as well as safety checks.

Daily vaccinations

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Wednesday that on average 170,000 daily vaccinations had been carried out this month and that the objective was to increase that to half a million.

He highlighted the large number of sites and people taking part in the UK vaccination drive.

“We must ask pharmaceutical companies to fully respect their commitments on a European level,” Draghi said, calling for a supply chain that was not vulnerable to shocks and decisions made elsewhere.

Italy is one of several European countries seeing a rise in Covid infections. Poland has reported a record 29,978 cases in the past 24 hours.

Germany has announced a strict five-day lockdown over Easter, but Chancellor Angela Merkel has called a summit of 16 state leaders amid pressure to change the plan. - BBC

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