• Monday, Feb 06, 2023
  • Last Update : 09:54 am

Fresh lockdowns in Europe as EU threatens AstraZeneca export ban

  • Published at 05:38 am March 20th, 2021
France lockdown coronavirus Covid-19
People, wearing protective face masks, queue outside a shop in a street in Nice as France's 16 hardest-hit departments will go into a third lockdown imposed to slow the rate of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) contagion, March 19, 2021 Reuters

Pakistan PM Imran Khan tested positive for Covid-19 two days after receiving China's Sinopharm vaccine

France, Poland, and Ukraine introduced new lockdown measures on Saturday to fight a surge in coronavirus infections, as the European Union threatened to block exports of AstraZeneca jabs in an escalating row over vaccines.

In Poland, most shops will be shut for the next three weeks along with hotels and cinemas, with similar measures introduced in Ukraine's capital Kiev.

A third of France's population also woke up to new restrictions, with non-essential shops shut in Paris for at least a month, although schools are staying open. 

Parisians packed trains leaving the capital and crammed into shops ahead of the new partial lockdown.

The mayor of Yerres, just outside the capital, told AFP he had told businesses there to remain open, defying the "totally incomprehensible" restrictions.

"Why would we catch Covid-19 more in a shoe store than a bookshop?" he asked. 

Bookshops are considered essential under the new measures, along with florists, chocolate shops and cobblers.

The pandemic is still speeding up worldwide, with the number of new Covid-19 infections rising globally by 14% over the past week, according to AFP data. 

Also Read: Denmark reports two cases of blood clots after AstraZeneca shot

In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro's famed beaches have been closed as the city's mayor warned of a "very critical" situation, with 95% of intensive care units occupied at public hospitals.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who has railed against stay-at-home measures and face masks, criticized the measure.

"Vitamin D is a way to prevent the virus from seriously affecting you. And where do you get vitamin D? From the sun. Such hypocrisy," said the far-right leader.

AstraZeneca row escalates

The row over AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine meanwhile shows no signs of abating, with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen threatening to halt exports of the jab if the bloc does not receive its deliveries first.

Von der Leyen said Anglo-Swedish pharma giant AstraZeneca had delivered only 30% of the 90 million vaccine doses it had promised for the first quarter of the year.

The company has blamed production delays at its EU plants, but European officials are furious that AstraZeneca has been able to deliver its UK contract in full while falling short on the continent.

"We have the option of banning a planned export. That's the message to AstraZeneca: you fulfil your contract with Europe first before you start delivering to other countries," von der Leyen told Germany's Funke media group.

The AstraZeneca shortfall has complicated an already stuttering vaccine rollout in Europe, but the drug-maker has also had to contend with safety concerns.

Worries that the AstraZeneca jab may cause blood clots had seen more than a dozen countries pause its use recently.

Several European countries including Germany and Italy resumed AstraZeneca vaccinations on Friday after following an all-clear from EU regulators and the WHO.

France also brought the jab back into use -- but just hours later, the national health regulator recommended it be given only to the over-55s, given the reported blood clots were only seen in younger people.

Scandinavian nations Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland have all said they want more information before deploying the vaccine again.

Also Read: Pakistan PM Imran Khan tests positive for Covid-19

World Health Organization vaccine safety experts said "available data do not suggest any overall increase in clotting conditions" among vaccinated people.

Seeking to reassure their populations, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his French counterpart Jean Castex both received a dose of AstraZeneca on Friday.

"I literally did not feel a thing. It was very good, very quick," said Johnson who became seriously ill from Covid-19 last year.

In Pakistan meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan tested positive for Covid-19 two days after receiving China's Sinopharm vaccine. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi committed to get the AstraZeneca vaccine soon.

Foreign fans banned from Olympics?

With more than 400 million vaccine doses already injected globally as inoculation campaigns gain pace, organizers of the Tokyo Olympics have been hoping this summer's pandemic-delayed Games could provide "proof of humanity's triumph over the virus."

But organizers meeting on Saturday said they will bar overseas fans from the Games, meaning there will be little of the international party atmosphere that usually characterizes the Olympics.

Also Read: India Covid cases surge to 4-month high, some lockdowns return

Signs of lockdown weariness have abounded in cities across the world, with protests against restrictions popping up in Vienna, Sofia and Montreal on Friday. 

Some 20,000 people were expected at a demonstration in the German city of Kassel on Saturday, raising fears it could turn into a super spreader event.

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