Under fire for its failure to procure enough coronavirus vaccines for the European Union’s 450 million citizens, the European Commission this week approved Italy’s request to block the export of a relative handful of drugs to Australia. The decision set off a storm of controversy.
The drugs in question – 250,000 doses from the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca – were to be exported to Australia from one of the company’s Italian factories. The move to block exports was in retaliation after AstraZeneca reneged on its pledge to supply 100 million doses to EU countries this spring. Instead, it will deliver 40 million.
But the contract signed between AstraZeneca and the EU said that the company would make its “best efforts” to meet its obligations, giving it legal room to delay deliveries if necessary. Stopping a shipment to Australia seems more like a fit of temper than a solution to the continent’s vaccine rollout problems.
Europe is facing a shortage of vaccines due to late and insufficient orders placed in 2020 by the European Commission, headed by President Ursula von der Leyen. The EU didn’t place concrete orders for any vaccines until mid-November and ordered far less than it could have.
It only secured 200 million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech, with an option for 100 million more that would be manufactured later. According to Der Spiegel magazine, BioNTech had additional production capacity and offered up to 500 million doses in the first round, but the offer was not accepted.
The numbers paled in comparison with orders by the United States, which secured 600 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 500 million from Moderna.
Criticism of the EU move first came from Australia, which asked the Commission to review the decision to block the export. “The world is in uncharted territory at present. It’s unsurprising that some countries would tear up the rulebook,” said Simon Birmingham, Australia’s finance minister.
A spokesman for the EU Commission answered drily that, “Progress needs to be made on the deliveries to EU countries.”
Even in Europe, some were taken aback. Germany, a firm believer in global trade, cautioned that a policy of limiting exports could boomerang if countries that produced ingredients for making vaccines followed suit.
“With a measure like that, in the short term there’s a win, but we have to be careful that it doesn’t cause us problems in the medium term by disrupting the supply chains for vaccines and everything that’s needed in terms of precursors,” said Jens Spahn, Germany’s health minister
In London, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who led his country out of the EU last year, criticized the decision for endangering “global efforts to fight the virus.” The World Health Organization (WHO) has already warned that previous threats by the EU to block exports could lead to vaccine trade wars.
Germany, Europe’s biggest country, has so far vaccinated no more than 8% of its population; France, just over 7%. By contrast, the UK has given at least one shot each to a third of its people while the United States has inoculated a quarter of its population.
Italy has vaccinated about 8% of its 60 million population. It only this week lowered the age threshold for recipients to receive a shot from 80 to 78. It has, in a controversial measure, placed police, soldiers and teachers at the front of the line, leaving fewer doses for older, more vulnerable people.
People between the ages of 70 and 79, presumably among the most vulnerable, have received only 170,000 doses; people between 50 and 59, more than a million.
There is, in fact, no vaccine shortage in Italy at the moment. In the case of AstraZeneca vaccines, Italy has received 1.5 million doses but has administered only 350,000. In general, the pace of injections has been woefully slow and they have been oddly distributed.
In any case, the 250,000 doses will make little difference for Italy. Though produced in the country, the drugs must be divided among the EU’s 27 members. The incident also makes little difference to Australia, whose coronavirus caseload is low. It is just now undertaking its vaccination campaign.
But it does make Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi look like he’s doing something. He was appointed last month as an unelected technocratic prime minister to fix Italy’s coronavirus problems and the economy.
On Wednesday, he phoned von der Leyen and said the EU must “suffocate” big pharmaceutical companies to squeeze them for more supplies, the newspaper La Repubblica reported.
Draghi seems to realize that relying on token measures like blocking shipment to Australia will not be enough. His government is in talks with Russian producers of the Sputnik V vaccine – which has yet to win EU regulatory approval – to make the drug in Italy.
Hungary is already vaccinating its citizens with Sputnik V – and with China’s Sinopharm, which is also yet to be approved by the EU. Czechia has also ordered some vaccines from China. Meanwhile, France said it might join Italy in blocking vaccine exports.
For the EU, which pressured members to let it handle vaccine procurement, the shortfalls are not only a public health fiasco but also a stain on its self-declared image as a transnational bloc better equipped to solve big problems than individual states.
Daniel Williams is a former foreign correspondent for the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Miami Herald and an ex-researcher for Human Rights Watch. His book Forsaken: The Persecution of Christians in Today’s Middle East was published by O/R Books. He is currently based in Rome.
Australia’s capital Canberra to enter seven-day lockdown
Australia’s capital Canberra was ordered into a seven-day lockdown on Thursday (Aug 12), after a single COVID-19 case was detected in the city that has largely avoided virus restrictions.
About 400,000 people in the nation’s political hub will be under stay-at-home orders from 5pm local time, joining millions more already under lockdown in Australia’s southeast.
“This is the most serious public health risk that we are faced in the territory this year. Really, since the beginning of the pandemic,” Australian Capital Territory chief minister Andrew Barr said.
He added that the COVID-positive person had been in the community while infectious.
Canberra has not been in lockdown since a nationwide shutdown in the early stages of the pandemic in 2020.
After months of pursuing a “COVID zero” strategy, Australia is struggling to contain multiple outbreaks of the highly transmissible Delta variant.
More than 10 million people in the country’s biggest cities, Melbourne and Sydney, are currently in lockdown as authorities try to bring case numbers down.
Much of western New South Wales state was also placed under lockdown late Wednesday, amid concerns for a sizeable Indigenous population feared more vulnerable to coronavirus.
“I ask all our Aboriginal community as well to please stay at home, come forward for a test if you have symptoms and of course please get vaccinated with any available vaccine as soon as you can,” New South Wales Health’s Marianne Gale said.
In Sydney, the epicentre of the outbreak, almost 6,500 cases and 36 deaths have been recorded since a cluster emerged in mid-June.
The city is expected to spend at least nine weeks under stay-at-home orders, with several hotspot suburbs placed under harsher restrictions on Thursday.
Australia won global praise for its successful coronavirus response in the early stages of the pandemic, and most of the country was enjoying few restrictions by late 2020.
But a glacial vaccination rollout has been no match for the Delta variant, leaving cities and towns reliant on repeated lockdowns as they attempt to stamp out the coronavirus.
The nation has recorded more than 37,500 cases of COVID-19 and 946 related deaths to date in a population of 25 million. AFP
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Russia to reveal ‘mystery plane’ at MAKS 2021
After months of speculation, that something top secret and special was happening at Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation, the countdown has begun.
UAC, part of the Russian state corporation Rostec, has teased the reveal of a new fighter jet on July 20, 2021, on the first day of the MAKS 2021 International Aviation and Space Salon in Zhukovsky, Aerotime Hub reported.
The upcoming aircraft, dubbed “Checkmate,” could be a light fighter jet “with a supersonic speed capability and low radar signature,” a source told Russian news agency TASS.
And according to a newly released trailer (attached below), this aircraft could be mainly oriented towards export.
“Russia is one of the few countries in the world with full-cycle capacities for producing advanced aircraft systems, as well as a recognized trendsetter in the creation of combat aircraft,” a Rostec spokesman commented.
“The new product developed by UAC specialists should arouse genuine interest not only in our country but also in other regions of the world, including our competitors abroad.”
In teasing its release, a press statement by Rostec gave props to Russia as one of the few countries in the world which had “full-cycle technologies for the production of advanced aircraft systems.,” Newsweek reported.
It says the upcoming unveiling will be of a “fundamentally new military aircraft.”
It also praised Russia’s status as a world leader in “making combat aircraft,” suggesting that the new plane could be a fighter jet.
“We are convinced that the new product developed by UAC specialists will arouse genuine interest not only in our country but in other regions of the world, including our competitors abroad,” the statement added.
Chess is a motif of the aircraft’s promotion which is surrounded by mystery.
At midnight Monday, the UAC website launched a countdown clock next to an image of a black knight chess piece. It invited web users to “turn the chessboard” and view a 34-second trailer.
Adding to the intrigue is a tweet in Russian on the UAC Twitter account that says: “everything is easier than it seems. #checkmate. Something is planned.”
Meanwhile, Defenseworld.net noted that Rostec had previously said it was developing a single-engine fighter jet.
It reported that speculation also included other possibilities such as a down-sized Su-57, or a 4.5 generation jet to challenge the F-16 Viper and the Chinese-Pakistani JF-17 Block III.
The War Zone also reported that the shadow of an aircraft over water in Rostec’s promotional video was similar to the Mikoyan MiG-35 multirole fighter jet.
There is strong speculation that Russia intends to do a hard sell with India.
For more than a decade, Russia has been attempting to sell the MiG-35 (NATO code name Fulcrum), an upgraded version of the MiG-29 fighter, to the Indian Air Force.
The Indian Air Force was apparently not impressed with the Fulcrum, but Russia has continued to describe India as a prospective buyer.
According to The Week Magazine, in May of this year, Russian news agencies reported the Sukhoi design bureau was developing a single-engine fighter.
At the time, TASS had reported, “The Sukhoi company is developing a single-engine light tactical plane with the take-off weight of up to 18 tonnes. The plane’s maximum speed will be above 2 Mach (twice the speed of sound).
“It will also have super-manoeuvrability and improved take-off and landing performance, thanks to a thrust vector control engine …”
If confirmed as a single-engine fighter, the new fighter could be considered the Russian counter to the US F-35 project, which has been developed with industrial partnerships with multiple nations such as the UK, Australia, Italy and Israel.
That would also make the “Checkmate” name apt. Especially if the price point is much lower than the F-35 or other US and European fighter jets, currently being offered.
The 2021 edition of the MAKS International Aviation and Space Salon is to take place at Zhukovsky airport near Moscow from July 20 to 25, 2021.
Sources: Aerotime Hub, Newsweek, Defenseworld.net, The War Zone, The Week Magazine
Tech giants give vaccines to Taiwan, sidestep China
Taiwanese tech giants Foxconn and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company announced Monday they will each donate five million coronavirus vaccine doses to the government in a deal with a China-based distributor. Taipei has been struggling to secure enough vaccines for its population and its precarious political status has been a major stumbling block. As Taipei and […]
The post Tech giants give vaccines to Taiwan, sidestep China appeared first on Asia Times.
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