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EU concedes the UK did NOT ban vaccine exports after Tuesday's claim

EU concedes the UK did NOT ban vaccine exports after Boris Johnson slapped down EU president Charles Michel in fresh row over Covid jabs

  • Boris Johnson hit out at EU president Charles Michel in row over Covid jabs 
  • Prime Minister said UK ‘has not blocked export of a single Covid-19 vaccine or vaccine component’, after Michel claimed Britain had imposed ‘an outright ban’ 
  • Later on Wednesday, the EU conceded that the UK did not ban vaccine exports
  • It is just the latest in a series of ugly spats between the UK and EU over vaccines 
  • Britain is leading one of the world’s fastest jabs drives with 33 per cent of people given at least one dose, compared to the EU’s six per cent 

The EU has conceded the UK did not ban vaccine exports after Boris Johnson slapped down the European Council’s president in a fresh row over Covid jabs. 

The Prime Minister spoke out after Charles Michel on Tuesday made the astonishing claim that the UK had ‘imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines.’ 

‘Let me be clear,’ Mr Johnson said at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, ‘we have not blocked the export of a single Covid-19 vaccine or vaccine component.’

When asked about the claims later on Wednesday, a European commission spokesman acknowledged there was no such ban, but declined to comment directly on the claims made by Mr Michel, the former prime minister of Belgium.

‘We know that different countries have got different measures in place – that doesn’t concern vaccines, as far as we understand, coming from the UK,’ the spokesman said, according to The Guardian. 

However, officials did point to a lack of vaccine exports coming from the UK when compared to the EU, with one saying ‘we need some transparency on that’.

Figures seen by The Guardian newspaper show that of the 34,090,287 doses exported out of the EU, 9,106,162 went to the UK. 

The EU’s climb-down comes after after the EU charge d’affairs was summoned to the Foreign Office to ‘clarify’ the situation earlier today, and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab issued a rebuttal in a letter on Tuesday night.

The row is just the latest in a series of increasingly bitter spats between the UK and EU over vaccines, as Britain powers ahead with one of the world’s fastest jabs programmes and Europe presides over one of the world’s slowest.

The United Kingdom has given about 35 percent of its adults a vaccine shot while the EU is further behind with just 9.5 percent.

Boris Johnson has slapped down EU president Charles Michel in a row over Covid jab exports, saying Britain has not blocked a single vaccine or component from going overseas

Britain has now vaccinated 34.37 people per 100, while the EU nations have managed just 9.11 per 100

EU rumours, unproven, of British hoarding of vaccines at the expense of the continent have always been there, but Michel issued a statement Tuesday saying that ‘the facts do not lie. 

‘The United Kingdom and the United States have imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced on their territory,’ he wrote.

After the initial EU denial, Michel, refused to fully back down and insisted any ban could come in many guises.

‘Different ways of imposing bans or restrictions on vaccines/medicines,’ he tweeted. ‘Glad if the UK reaction leads to more transparency & increased exports, to EU and third countries.’ 

Ursula von der Leyen said she is ‘tired of being the scapegoat’ in vaccine shambles

Ursula von der Leyen says she is ‘tired of being the scapegoat’ of Europe’s vaccine shambles.

The EU commission president, who was in charge of buying Europe’s vaccines, instead continued to point the finger of blame at drug-maker AstraZeneca – vowing to ‘keep up pressure’ on the firm to deliver jabs.

Von der Leyen also insisted EU was ‘particularly quick’ to sign vaccine deals, saying it put pen to paper with AstraZeneca a day before the UK did, in August last year.

In fact, the UK had a pre-contractual agreement with the drug-maker dating back to May, before signing a final contract in August.

Von der Leyen also denied that the EU blocking AstraZeneca jabs going to Australia was ‘protectionist’, insisting that it is about getting Europe’s fair share.

‘We want AstraZeneca to start by delivering vaccines for Europe,’ she said.

Mr Johnson told the House of Commons: ‘The whole House can be proud of the UK’s vaccination programme, with over 22.5million people now having received their first dose across the UK. 

‘We can also be proud of the support the UK has given to the international Covid response, including the £548 million we have donated to Covax.

‘I therefore wish to correct the suggestion from the European Council president that the UK has blocked vaccine exports.

‘Let me be clear: we have not blocked the export of a single Covid-19 vaccine or vaccine components.

‘This pandemic has put us all on the same side in the battle for global health, we oppose vaccine nationalism in all its forms.’ 

Covax is the UN’s jabs-buying programme which aims to distribute Covid vaccines to poorer countries. 

EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen refused to comment on the row Wednesday, though her office said that Mr Johnson had previously given assurances that there is no export ban in place. 

An EU diplomat added that such rows between the UK and Europe are ‘the new normal’, and that ‘economic divergence and more competition’ will place additional pressure on Brexit agreements.

The row erupted after Mr Michel published his weekly newsletter to 20,000 subscribers across the continent on Tuesday, rejecting charges of ‘vaccine nationalism’ after Italy used new EU laws to stop a shipment of jabs leaving the continent to Australia. 

Mr Michel said he was ‘shocked’ by the charge, before adding: ‘The United Kingdom and the United States have imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced on their territory. 

‘But the European Union, the region with the largest vaccine production capacity in the world, has simply put in place a system for controlling the export of doses produced in the EU.’ 

While the EU later acknowledged that no such ban existed, some officials have spoken out against a perceived disparity between the number of vaccines sent from the EU to the UK, and vice-versa.

Peter Liese, a German member of the European Parliament and key ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said on Wednesday that even if there is an export ban from the U.S., even worse is the case in the U.K. because we know that significant amounts of the AstraZeneca vaccine went from the continent to the U.K.’

One such example, he claimed, is ‘from the plant in Dessau IDT Biologika in Dessau, Germany, and still the company is not ready to give vaccine that is produced in the U.K. to supply the European Union.’

The EU’s programme has been much slower than those of former member Britain or the United States, and the bloc has also faced criticism abroad for so far doing less than China, Russia or India to supply vaccines to poor countries. 

It is the latest in a series of ugly vaccine spats since Britain fully left the EU in January.

While the EU is under pressure over its much-criticised Covid-19 inoculation strategy, Britain has been largely praised for its vaccine rollout and is eyeing a total easing of restrictions by June.

In his newsletter to 20,000 subscribers across the EU, Charles Michel (pictured on March 5) rejected charges of ‘vaccine nationalism’ levelled against the EU after the 27-member bloc found itself under fire at home for a vaccine roll-out

The EU partly blames Anglo-Swedish firm AstraZeneca for failing to fulfil its order due to production problems in its European factories.

It has since imposed export controls that allow it to block doses of vaccine made in Europe from going overseas until its own orders have been fulfilled.

The bloc has also been putting pressure on drug-makers to up their orders, and on Wednesday trumpeted the news that Pfizer will deliver an additional 4million doses later this month – over and above its already-agreed orders.

Von der Leyen said the doses would be used to help member states deploy ‘their targeted use where they are most needed, in particular in border regions’.

She said they would go to ‘tackle aggressive variants of the virus and to improve the situation in hotspots’.

Von der Leyen pointed to steep rises in infections and hospitalisations in Austria’s Tyrol region, France’s Nice and Moselle regions, Bolzano in Italy, and parts of Germany’s Bavaria and Saxony regions.

Brussels, Dublin and London were plunged into chaos on January 29 when the EU unveiled plans to unilaterally undo elements of the Brexit deal’s ‘Northern Ireland protocol’ in order to prevent vaccines leaving the bloc.

The special post-Brexit trade rules – painstakingly negotiated since Britain’s 2016 decision to split from the bloc to guarantee peace in Northern Ireland – had been operating for less than one month.

An outcry from Britain, Ireland and Northern Ireland forced the EU into a speedy U-turn – reversing a plan now widely considered to have been a diplomatic bungle.

Michel’s lengthy statement on Tuesday afternoon also defended the bloc’s strategy. 

He said that without Europe, it would not have been possible to develop and produce several vaccines in less than a year, and EU solidarity had ensured that poorer countries of the bloc received their first doses.

He took aim at the ‘highly publicised’ supply of vaccines by China and Russia to other countries.

‘We should not let ourselves be misled by China and Russia, both regimes with less desirable values than ours, as they organise highly limited but widely publicised operations to supply vaccines to others.’ 

Michel also noted that China and Russia had both vaccinated fewer people at home than the EU. ‘Europe will not use vaccines for propaganda purposes. We promote our values,’ he said.

Michel also defended a system to control the export of doses produced in EU countries, invoked by Italy last week to block a shipment of AstraZeneca shots to Australia.

‘Our objective: to prevent companies from which we have ordered and pre-financed doses from exporting them to other advanced countries when they have not delivered to us what was promised,’ Michel said. ‘The EU has never stopped exporting.’

He said the EU would become the world’s leading vaccine producer in the coming months and was the best equipped to adapt vaccine output quickly to virus mutations.

Already uneasy bedfellows during Britain’s 47 years of EU membership, things got progressively worse since the 2016 referendum when the United Kingdom voted to leave the bloc. After acrimonious departure talks, the split became official last year, but both sides then started fighting over a trade agreement.

A deal was reached on Christmas Eve but still need to be approved by the European Parliament. In the meantime, both sides are fighting from anything over the diplomatic status of the EU in London to the import-export regime between both sides.

The EU is considering taking legal action over the U.K. not respecting the withdrawal agreement that underpins the Brexit divorce. 

Britain, meanwhile, has refused to grant the EU’s first-ever ambassador to the country full diplomatic status. London says the EU is an organisation, rather than a country.

The EU immediately latched on to that issue too in the latest spat since it said the ambassador couldn’t make the Wednesday morning meeting because of the fight over his status. Instead, the EU sent a lower-ranking envoy. 

The row is the latest in a series of ugly vaccine spats since Britain fully left the EU in January. While the EU is under pressure over its much-criticised Covid-19 inoculation strategy, Britain has been largely praised for its vaccine rollout and is eyeing a total easing of restrictions by June. Pictured: Doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine (file photo)

Meanwhile, weekly deaths involving coronavirus in the over-80s in England and Wales have fallen 79 percent since a peak five weeks ago, figures showed on Tuesday.

There were 1,118 Covid-19 deaths in adults aged 80 and over which took place in the week ending February 26, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

This is a fall of more than three-quarters since the week ending January 22, when 5,326 deaths involving coronavirus took place in this age group, according to PA news agency analysis.

Deaths in adults aged 75-79 have dropped 79 percent over the same period, while for 70 to 74-year-olds the fall was 76 percent.

Some deaths in the latest week may not yet have been fully recorded.

The fall in Covid-19 deaths among the over-80s up to the previous week, ending February 19, was still significant, at 66 percent.

Adults aged 80 and over were included in the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s second priority group for the vaccine, followed by those aged 75 and over, and 70 and over.

Doses were first offered from early December.

By mid-February, the Government said it had offered the jab to everyone in these groups.

A total of 2,914 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending February 26 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, a drop of 29 percent on the previous week.

The figure is the lowest total since the week ending December 25.

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