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Austrian Chancellor and five other prime ministers call for fairer vaccine distribution

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Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (pictured) today (March 16) organized a meeting with allies from Eastern Europe, including Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Czech, Slovenian, Latvian and Croatian leaders, to call for a change to the way the European Union distributes COVID-19 vaccines after complaining that it was uneven.

Showing a chart, Kurz said: "I'm not sure you can see this but if you have a look here you will see that the majority of member states has administered between 10 and 12 vaccinations per 100 inhabitants. Austria is exactly in the middle on 12th place.

"It shows very clearly that in Malta for example, 27 vaccinations were administered and five in other countries. This means that we are in a situation where some member states will have vaccinated their population by the beginning or middle of May while for others, it will take six, eight or ten weeks longer. We believe that's a problem."

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These leaders claim that the distribution was not happening in line with national populations on a pro-rata basis as had been agreed. However, the European Commission issued a press release, following comments by Kurz last Friday (12 March), suggesting allocation was a “bazaar”. The Commission wrote: “The allocation of doses of vaccines under the advance purchase agreements has followed a transparent process.

"The Commission agrees with recent statements by several member states that the most equitable solution for the allocation of doses of vaccines is on the basis of a pro-rata division based on the population of each member state. This is the solution that the Commission proposed for all advance purchase agreements. It is a fair solution as the virus strikes equally everywhere, in all parts of the EU.”

Kurz's opponents have accused him of trying to deflect blame away from his government for the relatively slow pace of vaccinations.

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The EU has a mechanism for redistributing doses left when others do not take up their full pro-rata allocation, and the Commission has said it is up to member states to decide whether they want to go back to a strictly population-based method.

The “bazaar” that Kurz refers to has been the choice of member states who decided to depart from the Commission's proposal by adding flexibility that allows a different distribution of doses, taking into account the epidemiological situation and the vaccination needs of each country. Under this system, if a member state decides not to take up its pro-rata allocation, the doses are redistributed among the other interested member states.

The Commission also stated that it was up to member states to find an agreement if they wished to return to the pro-rata basis.

In a tweet, Kurz acknowledged that the situation was not the EU’s fault, but nevertheless called on the EU to act: “Already on 21 January, all heads of state and government agreed on a distribution according to the population key - but this is currently not being implemented. This is not the fault of the EU, but of the post-order delivery system.”

COVID-19

EU vaccinates 70% of its adult population

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Today (31 August) the EU has reached a target of 70% of the adult population fully vaccinated. More than 256 million adults in the EU have now received a full vaccine course. 

The Commission already announced that it had met its target to deliver enough vaccines to vaccinate this proportion of the population at the end of July; today’s announcement confirms that these vaccines have been administered. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “The full vaccination of 70% of adults in the EU already in August is a great achievement. The EU's strategy of moving forward together is paying off and is putting Europe at the vanguard of the global fight against COVID-19.”

Given the prevalence of the more virulent Delta variant, von der Leyen is urging EU countries and its partners to continue vaccinating at a pace. 

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Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “I am very pleased that as of today we have reached our goal to vaccinate 70% of EU adults before the end of the summer. This is a collective achievement of the EU and its member states that shows what is possible when we work together with solidarity and in co-ordination. Our efforts to further increase vaccinations across the EU will continue unabated. We will continue to support in particular those states that are continuing to face challenges.”

The picture across the EU varies enormously; the good news hides significant differences between EU members, with Romania (26%) and Bulgaria (17%) having very low rates of vaccination. Ireland, which has a very high rate of vaccination, has been able to purchase vaccines from Romania, despite its low rate of vaccination. 

Council removes 5 countries and one entity/territorial authority travel restrictions list 

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The Council has updated the list of countries, special administrative regions and other entities and territorial authorities for which travel restrictions should be lifted. In particular, Israel, Kosovo, Lebanon, Montenegro, the Republic of North Macedonia and the United States of America were removed from the list.

Non-essential travel to the EU from countries or entities is subject to temporary travel restriction. Member states can lift the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU for fully vaccinated travellers.

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Ensuring smooth air travel while checking EU Digital COVID Certificates: New guidelines for member states

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Following the launch of the EU Digital COVID Certificate on 1 July, the European Commission has issued guidelines for EU member states on the best ways to check them before travel, ensuring the smoothest possible experience for air passengers and staff alike. The non-mandatory EU Digital COVID Certificate provides either proof of vaccination, shows if a person holds a negative SARS-COV-2 test result, or has recovered from COVID-19. Therefore, the EU Digital COVID Certificate is essential to support the re-opening of safe travel.

As passenger numbers will rise over the summer, an increased number of Certificates will need to be checked. The airline sector is particularly concerned by this since, in July for example, air traffic is expected to reach more than 60% of 2019 levels, and will rise thereafter. Currently, how and how often passenger's Certificates are checked, depends on the holder's departure, transit and arrival points.

A better-coordinated approach would help avoid congestion at airports and unnecessary stress for passengers and staff. Transport CommissionerAdina Vălean said: “Reaping the full benefits of the EU Digital COVID Certificate requires the harmonization of the verification protocol. Cooperating for a ‘one-stop' system to check the certificates makes for a seamless travel experience for the passengers across the Union.”

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To avoid duplication, i.e. checks by more than one actor (airline operators, public authorities etc.), the Commission recommends a ‘one-stop' verification process prior to departure, involving co-ordination between authorities, airports and airlines. Moreover, EU member states should ensure that the verification is carried out as early as possible and preferably before the passenger arrives at the departure airport. This should ensure smoother travel and less burden for all involved.

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EU agrees to recognize Swiss COVID certificates

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Today (8 July) the European Commission adopted a decision recognizing Swiss COVID-19 certificates as equivalent to the EU Digital COVID Certificate. This should considerably ease travel between Switzerland and its neighbours.

Switzerland is the first country from outside the 30 countries of the EU and EEA area, to be connected to the EU’s system. The Swiss COVID certificates will be accepted in the EU under the same conditions as the EU Digital COVID Certificate. Swiss nationals, EU citizens, and third-country nationals legally staying or residing in Switzerland will be able to travel inside the EU under the same conditions as holders of an EU Digital COVID Certificate. 

Justice Commissioner, Didier Reynders, said: “I warmly welcome that the Swiss authorities have decided to implement a system based on the EU Digital COVID Certificate. This will allow EU citizens and Swiss nationals to travel safely and more freely this summer.” 

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Switzerland shall be connected to the EU Digital COVID Certificate trust framework.

Talks are still ongoing with the UK and other third countries.

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