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Push to get wary Russians vaccinated leaves some COVID clinics short

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People line up to receive vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a vaccination centre in the ZZZed club in Vladimir, Russia July 15, 2021. REUTERS/Polina Nikolskaya

Alexander tried three times over 10 days to get his first dose of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in his home town of Vladimir. Twice, supplies ran out as he was standing in the queue, writes Polina Nikolskaya.

"People line up from 4 a.m. although the centre opens at 10 a.m.," the 33-year-old said, as he finally entered the walk-in vaccination room in the town, where gold-domed medieval churches attract crowds of tourists in normal years.

A third wave of COVID-19 infections has lifted reported daily deaths in Russia to record highs in recent weeks and sluggish demand for vaccines from a wary population has finally begun to grow with a big official push to boost uptake.

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The switch poses a challenge for Russia, which has signed contracts to supply Sputnik V to countries around the world.

With vaccination now compulsory in some Russian regions for people working in jobs involving close contact with the public such as waiters and taxi drivers, shortages have appeared.

"At the last minute we all decided to get vaccinated at the same time," Maria Koltunova, a representative of the Vladimir regional health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor told reporters on July 16. "This has caused a problem."

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Late last month, after several Russian regions reported shortages of the vaccine, the Kremlin blamed them on growing demand and storage difficulties which it said would be resolved in the coming days. Read more.

At the appointment desks of four clinics in different towns in the wider Vladimir region last week, Reuters was told that no shots were available at this time. The earliest appointments available were next month, all said they could not give a date.

The industry ministry said it was working with the health ministry to close the demand gap in places where it had jumped. The health ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Russia is producing 30 million sets of doses per month, the industry ministry said, and can gradually scale that up to a monthly figure of 45-40 million doses over the next few months.

Overall, almost 44 million full doses of all vaccines have been released for the vaccination of Russia's 144 million people, the industry minister said last week.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin ordered the government on Monday to check what vaccines were available.

The country does not provide data for vaccine exports and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), responsible for marketing the vaccine abroad, declined to comment.

A laboratory in India said last week the country's full rollout would have to be put on hold until the Russia producer provides equal quantities of its two doses, which are different sizes. Read more.

Argentina and Guatemala have also reported delays to promised supplies. Read more.

Despite launching its vaccine rollout in January and approving four homegrown vaccines for domestic use, Russia had given only around 21% of its entire population one shot by July 9, according to data provided by health minister Mikhail Murashko, although counting only adults, that would be higher.

The Kremlin earlier cited ‘nihilism’ among the population; some Russians have cited distrust, both of new drugs and government programmes.

UNDER PRESSURE

Around 12% of the 1.4 million people in the Vladimir region 200 km (125 miles) east of Moscow had been vaccinated by July 12, data provided by local officials showed. Some people said the sudden uptick in demand for shots was due to a spate of government policies.

These included a week-long regional requirement to prove vaccination against, or recent recovery from, COVID-19 with QR codes to enter cafes and other venues. The policy was cancelled amid an outcry from business and shortages of vaccine. read more

The region also ordered some public sector and service sector businesses to inoculate at least 60% of their employees with one dose by August 15. Cafe owners Dmitry Bolshakov and Alexander Yuriev said oral recommendations came earlier.

Third-time lucky vaccine recipient Alexander, who gave only his first name due to the sensitivity of the issue, said he had queued for the shot of his own accord after his local clinic said it could not offer one until late August.

But nine out of 12 people approached by Reuters at the city’s vaccination centres said they did not want to be vaccinated but had been pressured by their employers. The local governor's office and the health department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In one Vladimir café called ZZZed, owner Yuriev had, along with officials, set up a centre for vaccinations, starting with the city’s restaurant workers. People filled out their consent forms sitting at the bar, under a disco ball.

"We have a queue now of about 1,000 people," Yuriev said. With demand up, shortages of shots are the next obstacle. "We are limited by the lack of vaccines in the region," he said.

The acting head of the local health watchdog, Yulia Potselueva, told reporters on July 16 that the problem of vaccine supply would be solved in the near future.

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Commission approves €1.8 million Latvian scheme to support cattle farmers affected by the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €1.8 million Latvian scheme to support farmers active in the cattle-breeding sector affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework. Under the scheme, the aid will take the form of direct grants. The measure aims at mitigating the liquidity shortages that the beneficiaries are facing and at addressing part of the losses they incurred due to the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the Latvian government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus. The Commission found that the scheme is in line with the conditions of the Temporary Framework.

In particular, the aid (i) will not exceed €225,000 per beneficiary; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is 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 scheme under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64541 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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Commission approves €500,000 Portuguese scheme to further support the passenger transport sector in Azores in the context of the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €500,000 Portuguese scheme to further support the passenger transport sector in the Region of the Azores in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The measure was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework. It follows another Portuguese scheme to support the passenger transport sector in Azores that the Commission approved on 4 June 2021 (SA.63010). Under the new scheme, the aid will take the form of direct grants. The measure will be open to collective passenger transport companies of all sizes active in the Azores. The purpose of the measure is to mitigate the sudden liquidity shortages that these companies are facing and to address losses incurred over 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus.

The Commission found that the Portuguese scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, the aid (i) will not exceed €1.8 million per company; and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is 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 of the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64599 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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Commission authorizes French aid scheme of €3 billion to support, through loans and equity investments, companies affected by the coronavirus pandemic

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The European Commission has cleared, under EU state aid rules, France's plans to set up a € 3 billion fund that will invest through debt instruments and equity and hybrid instruments in companies affected by the pandemic. The measure was authorized under the Temporary State Aid Framework. The scheme will be implemented through a fund, titled 'Transition Fund for Businesses Affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic', with a budget of € 3bn.

Under this scheme, support will take the form of (i) subordinated or participating loans; and (ii) recapitalization measures, in particular hybrid capital instruments and non-voting preferred shares. The measure is open to companies established in France and present in all sectors (except the financial sector), which were viable before the coronavirus pandemic and which have demonstrated the long-term viability of their economic model. Between 50 and 100 companies are expected to benefit from this scheme. The Commission considered that the measures complied with the conditions set out in the temporary framework.

The Commission concluded that the measure was necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of France, in accordance with Article 107 (3) (b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the temporary supervision. On this basis, the Commission authorized these schemes under EU state aid rules.

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Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager (pictured), competition policy, said: “This €3bn recapitalization scheme will allow France to support companies affected by the coronavirus pandemic by facilitating their access funding in these difficult times. We continue to work closely with member states to find practical solutions to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic while respecting EU regulations.”

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