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Commission approves €1.75 billion #Estonia schemes to support economy in #Coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved two Estonian state aid schemes to support the Estonian economy in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The schemes were approved under the State aid Temporary Framework to support the economy in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak adopted by the Commission on 19 March 2020.

Estonia notified to the Commission two support schemes under the Temporary Framework: (i) the first support scheme will be implemented and administered by the public Foundation KredEx. It will be open to all companies, subject to certain exceptions defined by Estonia; (ii) the second scheme will be implemented and administered by the public Estonian Rural Development Foundation.

It will be open to companies in all sectors and for the whole territory of Estonia. Under both schemes, with a total estimated budget of €1.75 billion, the support will consist either in the provision of public guarantees on existing or new loans or in the granting of loans at favourable terms. The aim of the schemes is to help businesses cover immediate working capital or investment needs.

The Commission concluded that the measures are necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a Member State, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measures under EU state aid rules.

Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “The €1.75 billion Estonian schemes will enable the provision of public guarantees on loans and the granting of loans at favourable terms. They will help businesses cover immediate working capital and investment needs, and continue their activities in these difficult times. We continue working closely with member states to ensure that national support measures can be put in place in a timely, coordinated and effective way, in line with EU rules.”

The full press release is available online.

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German states favour extending COVID-19 lockdown to boost Christmas prospects

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Many of Germany’s 16 federal states favour extending a partial shutdown meant to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and make family gatherings over Christmas possible, two state premiers said on Monday (23 November). Germany, which is governed by a conservative-Social Democratic coalition, imposed a month-long “lockdown-lite” from 2 November. Infection numbers have plateaued since but not declined, write Christian Goetz, Thomas Seythal and Kirsti Knolle.

“The November shutdown has brought something, the (infection) numbers are subdued but they remain high,” Manuela Schwesig, premier of the northern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, told Deutschlandfunk (DLF) radio.

“For this reason, many states believe that the November shutdown must continue, especially in the risk areas,” the Social Democrat said. Saxony-Anhalt state premier Reiner Haseloff, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, told a news conference there was a general agreement that current restrictions should be extended for about three weeks. State premiers and Merkel are due to discuss the measures on Wednesday.

They could extend them until 20 December, according to draft proposals from the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats obtained by Reuters. Bars and restaurants are closed under the November lockdown but schools and shops remain open. Private gatherings are limited to a maximum of 10 people from two households. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 10,864 to 929,133 over the past 24 hours, 40 more than the corresponding rise from the previous Sunday last week, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Monday (23 NOvember).

The reported death toll rose by 90 to 14,112 in Germany, a country of 83 million with Europe’s biggest economy. Financial support for businesses could be extended into December, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier was quoted as saying on DLF. Preparations for COVID-19 vaccinations should be completed by mid-December to be able to immediately start inoculations should vaccines become available before the end of the year, Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters. Such hopes have been boosted by Pfizer’s and BioNTech’s US application for emergency use authorization of their COVID-19 vaccine.

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AstraZeneca says COVID-19 'vaccine for the world' can be 90% effective

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AstraZeneca said on Monday (23 NOvember) its COVID-19 vaccine could be around 90% effective, giving the world’s fight against the global pandemic a new weapon, cheaper to make, easier to distribute and faster to scale-up than rivals, write Kate Holton, Josephine Mason and Kate Kelland.

The British drugmaker said it will have as many as 200 million doses by the end of 2020, around four times as many as U.S. competitor Pfizer. Seven hundred million doses could be ready globally as soon as the end of the first quarter of 2021. “This means we have a vaccine for the world,” said Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford University vaccine group that developed the drug. The vaccine was 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 when it was administered as a half dose followed by a full dose at least a month later, according to data from late-stage trials in Britain and Brazil. No serious safety events were confirmed, the company said.

The vaccine’s cost to governments works out at just a few dollars a shot, a fraction of the price of shots from Pfizer and Moderna, which use a more unconventional technology. It can also be transported and stored at normal fridge temperatures, which proponents say would make it easier to distribute, especially in poor countries, than Pfizer’s, which needs to be shipped and stored at -70C. The faster roll-out means both rich and poor countries that had been drawing up plans to ration vaccines can distribute them more widely, helping to eventually halt the massive social and economic disruption of a pandemic that has killed 1.4 million people.

“The bulk of the vaccine rollout programme will be in January, February, March. And we hope that sometime after Easter things will be able to start to get back to normal,” said Matt Hancock, health secretary of Britain which has pre-ordered 100 million doses for its 67 million people.

Some signs AstraZeneca vaccine durability could be a year - chief investigator Oxford COVID-19 vaccine efficacy would look higher if trial tested for severe virus See more stories In poor countries, where the logistics of distributing rival vaccines posed a bigger challenge, the effect of a cheaper and easier alternative could be even more pronounced. Zahid Maleque, health minister of Bangladesh, which is buying in 30 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made in India, called the findings “really good news”.

“The big advantage of having the vaccine is that it can be stored, transported and handled at 2-8 degrees Celsius, and we have that storage facility,” he said. “

The results showed the effectiveness of AstraZeneca’s vaccine depended on the dosing, and fell to just 62% when given as two full doses rather than a half-dose first. Scientists cautioned, however, against seeing this as evidence that it would be less useful than rivals. Vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna each prevented about 95% of cases according to interim data from their late-stage trials. The researchers did not say what proportion of the 131 cases of COVID-19 in the study received the smaller initial dose. “I think it is a real fool’s errand to start trying to pick these three (Pfizer/Moderna/Astra) apart on the basis of snippets of phase 3 data from press releases,” said Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London. “For the bigger picture, my suspicion is that by the time we are a year down the line, we’ll be using all three vaccines with about 90% protection - and we’ll be a lot happier.”

Researchers don’t know the exact reason why a smaller first dose proved more effective. “There are some examples where changing the way you prime the immune system, can result in a better response,” Pollard said. Pascal Soriot, Astra’s chief executive, said it was good news, as more people could be vaccinated faster with a limited supply. Shares and oil prices rose amid hopes another vaccine candidate would revive the global economy with U.S. stock futures trading higher and the STOXX index of Europe’s 600 largest shares gaining 0.5% to its highest since February. AstraZeneca’s own shares fell 1.8% as traders perceived the efficacy data as disappointing compared with rivals.

Pfizer and Moderna set the bar for success sky-high. The US Food and Drug Administration has said any shot would need to prevent disease or decrease severity in at least 50% of those vaccinated. The AstraZeneca vaccine uses a modified version of a chimpanzee common cold virus to deliver instructions to cells to fight the target virus, a traditional approach to vaccine development and different from the path taken by Pfizer and Moderna, which rely on new technology known as messenger RNA (mRNA). AstraZeneca, one of Britain’s most valuable listed companies, will now immediately prepare regulatory submission of the data to authorities around the world that have a framework in place for conditional or early approval.

It will also seek an emergency use listing from the World Health Organization to speed up availability in low-income countries. In parallel, the full analysis of the interim results is being submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The US Food and Drug Administration is likely to approve in mid-December the distribution of the vaccine made by Pfizer, according to a top official of the US government’s vaccine development effort.

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Commission approves €2.55 billion Spanish guarantee scheme to compensate certain self-employed and companies for damages suffered due to coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, a €2.55 billion Spanish scheme to compensate certain self-employed and companies, which are following judicial composition agreements, for damages suffered due to coronavirus outbreak. The compensation will take the form of public guarantees for repayable new loans granted by supervised financial institutions, and new notes issued on the Alternative Fixed-Income Market. Under the scheme, around 15,000 self-employed and companies with endorsed composition agreements with creditors following judicial insolvency proceedings will be compensated for damages incurred between 14 March and 20 June 2020.

This period coincides with the period when the Spanish government implemented restrictive measures to limit the spread of the virus. The Commission assessed the measure under Article 107(2)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which enables the Commission to approve state aid measures granted by member states to compensate specific companies or specific sectors for the damages caused by exceptional occurrences, such as the coronavirus outbreak. The Commission found that the Spanish scheme will compensate damages that are directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak restrictions.

It also found that the measure is proportionate, as the envisaged compensation does not exceed what is necessary to make good the damages. The Commission therefore concluded that the scheme is in line with EU state aid rules. More information will be available on the Commission's competition website, in the public case register, under the case number SA.59045.

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