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Europe seeks to ease vaccine concerns as virus curbs intensify

By AFP - Jan 17,2021 - Last updated at Jan 17,2021

Dutch riot police stand near anti-government activists as they denounce ongoing restrictions related to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic among other issues in Museumplein, Amsterdam, on Sunday (AFP photo)

PARIS — Officials sought to ease concerns in Europe on Sunday about deliveries of coronavirus vaccines as nations across the world doubled down on restrictions to fight the rampaging pandemic.

The contagion is showing no signs of slowing down, with infections surging past 94 million and more than two million deaths, and Europe among the hardest-hit parts of the world.

Worries have grown that delays in the delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could hamper a European rollout that has already come under heavy fire for being too slow.

US drugmaker Pfizer, which developed the jab in collaboration with Germany's BioNTech, said it was working to "significantly" scale up production at its plant in Belgium in the second quarter.

After a short delay, deliveries should be back to the original schedule to the EU from January 25.

"There's a dip," said France's Europe Minister Clement Beaune. "But it's better that it happens now when we have stockpiles than when the wider vaccination campaign starts."

He told Franceinfo that a limited delay should not present a huge problem.

'Unacceptable'

Nevertheless, several Nordic and Baltic countries have described the situation as "unacceptable", and Belgium's vaccination strategy task force condemned Pfizer for failing to consult them.

France, which saw its death toll rise past 70,000 at the weekend, is set to begin a campaign to inoculate people over 75 from Monday. Russia plans to begin mass vaccinations the same day.

The long process of vaccine rollouts mean countries still have few options but to rely on lockdowns, curfews and social distancing to control the spread of the virus.

Switzerland and Italy are tightening their restrictions from Monday and Britain will require all arrivals to quarantine and show negative tests.

Newspaper reports suggested the UK could try to emulate countries such as Australia and New Zealand in requiring travellers to self-isolate in hotels at their own expense.

Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said such a system could be difficult to manage but “we need to look at that very carefully based on the experience of other countries”.

Austria, currently in its third national lockdown, said that the current curbs will be extended by another two weeks until February 8 in face of the rise in infections and the spread of virus variants believed to be much more contagious.

Biden pledge 

As Europe manages its vaccine rollout, the United States is struggling with a contagion that has killed close to 400,000 as president-elect Joe Biden prepares to take the reins of power from Donald Trump.

Biden says he will sign executive orders to tackle the pandemic on the day he is inaugurated next week.

He has pledged to set up thousands of immunisation sites, deploy mobile clinics and expand the public health workforce in a bid to revive the stuttering rollout of vaccines.

India, second to the United States in the number of coronavirus cases, aims to inoculate 300 million people by July in one of the world’s biggest vaccination drives.

It will use two vaccines, the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot made locally by India’s Serum Institute, and a homegrown jab called Covaxin.

Spain began administering Sunday second vaccine doses to people who had already received the first at the end of December, mostly nursing home residents and care staff.

In Norway, where 13 frail elderly people died after a first vaccine injection, the Medical Medicines Agency, after assessing the cases, suggested last week that the deaths could be linked to side effects of the jab.

But agency official Steinar Madsen told public broadcaster NRK that the there was no cause for alarm.

“It is quite clear that these vaccines present very little risk, with the minimal exception of the most fragile patients,” he said.

 

‘Anti-mask lunacy’ 

 

With populations across the globe tiring of lockdown measures, protests continue to be held in many countries.

Roughly 10,000 people marched in Austria’s capital Vienna against coronavirus restrictions on Saturday, calling on the government to resign.

Most of them refused to wear masks or respect social distancing rules, and their rally was condemned as “anti-mask lunacy” by a much smaller counter-protest.

The pandemic also continues to wreak havoc on the global sporting calendar.

The Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year, was thrown into disarray Saturday when three people tested positive on two of the 17 charter flights bringing tennis players and their entourages to the country.

A fourth person, a member of a broadcast team on one of the same flights tested positive Sunday.

Quarantine rules mean 47 players will not be allowed out to train but organisers said the tournament was still set to begin February 8.

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