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COVID-19

EU states seek summit on unfair vaccine handouts as AstraZeneca announce more delays

Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Latvia have called for a EU summit to discuss "huge disparities" in the distribution of vaccines, according to a letter published Saturday.

EU states seek summit on unfair vaccine handouts as AstraZeneca announce more delays
(Photo by JENS SCHLUETER / AFP)

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz suggested Friday that some members of the European Union may have signed “secret contracts” with vaccine companies to receive more doses than they were entitled to as per EU-wide agreements.

Kurz and his four counterparts on Friday sent a letter to Ursula Von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and Charles Michel, president of the European Council, claiming that “deliveries of vaccine doses by pharma companies to individual EU member states are not being implemented on an equal
basis.”

“If this system were to carry on, it would continue creating and exacerbating huge disparities among member states by this summer, whereby some would be able to reach herd immunity in a few weeks while others would lag far behind,” the letter said.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Photo: YVES HERMAN / AFP / POOL

“We therefore call on you… to hold a discussion on this important matter among leaders as soon as possible,” it said.

Kurz on Friday described “bazaars” where some member states made additional agreements with vaccine companies, but an EU spokesman said that it was up to members states to “ask less or more of a given vaccine.”

The Austrian health ministry also dismissed Kurz’s claims, reiterating the EU’s statement that each member state was allowed to say how many doses of the various vaccines it wanted to procure.

“These were very balanced and transparent negotiations,” Ines Stilling, general secretary of the Austrian health ministry, said in an interview with the public broadcaster Saturday.

The European Union has blamed its sluggish vaccine rollout on supply and delivery problems and continues to lag behind the United States, Israel and the United Kingdom in terms of the percentage of the population that has already received at least one dose.

READ ALSO: France will not halt use of AstraZeneca vaccine, says health minister

The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca announced a new shortfall in planned vaccine shipments to the European Union on Saturday, citing production problems and export restrictions.

“AstraZeneca is disappointed to announce a shortfall in planned COVID-19 vaccine shipments to the European Union (EU) despite working tirelessly to accelerate supply,” it said in a statement.

The company had previously warned it was facing shortfalls from its European supply chain due to “lower-than-expected output from the production process.”

It was hoping to compensate for part of the shortfall by sourcing vaccines from its global network, with half of the EU’s supply in the second quarter and 10 million doses in the first quarter due to come from its international supply chain.

READ ALSO: AstraZeneca suspension: Blood-clot risk ‘no higher in vaccinated people’

(Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

“Unfortunately, export restrictions will reduce deliveries in the first quarter, and are likely to affect deliveries in the second quarter,” it added.

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AstraZeneca started delivery of the vaccine to the EU in February, and still aims to deliver 100 million doses in the first half of 2021, of which 30 million are due to be delivered in the first quarter.

The under-fire firm said it was “collaborating with the EU Commission and member states to address the supply challenges.

“It remains confident that productivity in its EU supply chain will continue to improve, to help protect millions of Europeans against the virus.”

READ ALSO: Covid-19: Italy bans batch of AstraZeneca vaccine

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COVID-19

Where in France do you still need a face mask?

In France, masks will no longer be required on indoor transport as of Monday, May 16th. Here are rules and recommendations that are still in place:

Where in France do you still need a face mask?

Members of the public in France have been asked to wear face masks for the most part of two years, at times even outside in the street.

Since March 14th, 2022, the facial coverings have no longer been mandatory in most establishments such as shops, and as of Monday, May 16th, it will no longer be mandatory on indoor public transport. 

As of May 16th, you will therefore no longer be required to wear a mask in the following transports:

  • Buses and coaches
  • Subways and streetcars
  • RER and TER
  • TGV and interregional lines
  • Taxis

Regarding airplanes whether or not you must wear a mask is a bit more complicated.

On Wednesday, May 11th, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) announced that from May 16th onward it would no longer be required to wear a mask in airports and on board aircraft in the European Union. However, Germany has stated that it does not have the intention of lifting its requirement of wearing a mask on its airlines – this would include the Lufthansa airline. Thus, it will be necessary for passengers to still very to rules each airline has in place, which could be the case when travelling to a country that still has indoor mask requirements in place.

EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky specified that vulnerable people should continue to wear masks, and that “a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, to reassure those seated nearby.”

Masks still obligatory in medical settings

However, it will still be mandatory for caregivers, patients and visitors in health care facilities, specifically including hospitals, pharmacies, medical laboratories, retirement homes, and establishments for the disabled. 

For people who are vulnerable either due to their age or their status as immunocompromised, wearing a mask will continue to be recommended, though not required, particularly for enclosed spaces and in large gatherings.

Masks are also still recommended for people who test positive, people who might have come in contact with Covid-19, symptomatic people and healthcare professionals.

Will masks come back?

It is possible. French Health Minister Olivier Véran does not exclude the return of mandatory mask-wearing, should the health situation require it.

What are the other Covid-19 restrictions that remain in place?

The primary restriction that has not changed is the French government’s regulation for testing positive: If you are unvaccinated and test positive, isolation is still required for 10 days, if you are vaccinated, this requirement is seven days. Isolation can be reduced from 10 to 7 days or from 7 to 5 days if a negative covid test is performed, and symptoms are no longer present.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What Covid restrictions remain in place in France?

The French Health Ministry still recommends following sanitary measures such as: wearing a mask in places where it is still mandatory, hand washing, regular ventilation of rooms, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, and using a single-use handkerchief (tissue).

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