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Norway to ease COVID-19 restrictions further this week



Norway will allow larger groups of people to meet from next week and let most bars and restaurants serve alcohol up to midnight as it takes its next major step in unwinding COVID-19 curbs, Prime Minister Erna Solberg (pictured) has said, write Victoria Klesty and Nerijus Adomaitis.

The capital Oslo and its surrounding region will also relax some of its stricter localised restrictions, allowing gyms, cinemas, theatres and restaurants to reopen and children to resume indoor sports, authorities added.

"We're ending the social lockdown of Oslo that has lasted since early November," city council chief Raymond Johansen told a news conference.

"This will allow many people to get back to work," he said.

Norway has had some of Europe's lowest rates of infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic. But it tightened measures after a rapid increase in hospitaliations in March triggered by more contagious variants of the coronavirus.

Since then, rates of new infections have declined steadily, raising hopes that a third wave of infections has been brought under control.

The relaxations are the second phase of a four-step plan to unwind the national lockdown. Read more

From 27 May in most of Norway, up to 200 people will be allowed to attend indoor events with fixed seats, up from the current 100, the government said.

Many restrictions on participation in recreational sports will also be lifted.

"This means that we can advance the work of getting Norway back up to speed," Solberg told a news conference.

The stricter localized restrictions covering Oslo and its region will be eased a day earlier from 26 May.

There, bars and restaurants will now be allowed to serve alcohol until 10 p.m., and up to 20 people to meet for indoors events, ending a ban on such gatherings.

National advice against domestic travel will be lifted immediately on Friday (28 May), the government said.

Norway is not part of the European Union but is part of the single European market and of the Schengen travel zone.

About one in three adults have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and roughly 15% of adults are fully vaccinated, according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.


Belgian court finds AstraZeneca should have used UK production to meet EU contract



Today (18 June) Belgium’s Court of First Instance published its judgement on the case brought against AstraZeneca (AZ) by the European Commission and its member states for interim measures. The court found that AZ failed to meet “best reasonable efforts” outlined in its advance purchase agreement (APA) with the EU, importantly the court found that the Oxford production facility had been monopolized to meet UK commitments despite explicit references to it in the APA.

AZ’s actions triggered the European Union to enact very carefully circumscribed trade restrictions that were targeted at addressing this problem.

AstraZeneca will need to deliver 80.2 million doses by the end of September or incur a cost of €10 for every dose it fails to deliver. This is a long way from the European Commission’s request for 120 million vaccine doses by the end of June 2021, and a total of 300 million doses by the end of September 2021. Our reading of the judgement suggests that with the acknowledgement that the UK production should be used to meet the EU’s requirements and other production in other non-EU countries coming online these doses are probably now within reach.

The decision has been welcomed by AstraZeneca and the European Commission, but costs were allocated on a 7:3 basis with AZ covering 70%.

In its press release AstraZeneca General Counsel, Jeffrey Pott, said: “We are pleased with the Court’s order. AstraZeneca has fully complied with its agreement with the European Commission and we will continue to focus on the urgent task of supplying an effective vaccine.”

However, in its statement the European Commission welcomes the judges finding that AstraZeneca committed a serious breach (‘faute lourde') of its contractual obligations with the EU.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen said: “This decision confirms the position of the Commission: AstraZeneca did not live up to the commitments it made in the contract.” The Commission also says that the Commission’s “sound legal basis” - that some had brought into question - had been vindicated. 

In their press release AstraZeneca stated: “The Court found that the European Commission has no exclusivity or right of priority over all other contracting parties.” However, this wasn’t at issue, the court called for proportionality when there are conflicting contracts.

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EU draws up list of which countries should have travel restrictions lifted - UK excluded



Following a review under the recommendation on the gradual lifting of the temporary restrictions on non-essential travel into the EU, the Council updated the list of countries, special administrative regions and other entities and territorial authorities for which travel restrictions should be lifted. As stipulated in the Council recommendation, this list will continue to be reviewed every two weeks and, as the case may be, updated.

Based on the criteria and conditions set out in the recommendation, as from 18 June 2021 member states should gradually lift the travel restrictions at the external borders for residents of the following third countries:

  • Albania
  • Australia
  • Israel
  • Japan
  • Lebanon
  • New Zealand
  • Republic of North Macedonia
  • Rwanda
  • Serbia
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Thailand
  • United States of America
  • China, subject to confirmation of reciprocity

Travel restrictions should also be gradually lifted for the special administrative regions of China Hong Kong and  Macao. The condition of reciprocity for these special administrative regions has been lifted.

Under the category of entities and territorial authorities that are not recognised as states by at least one member state, travel restrictions for Taiwan should also be gradually lifted.

Residents of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican should be considered as EU residents for the purpose of this recommendation.

The criteria to determine the third countries for which the current travel restriction should be lifted were updated on 20 May 2021. They cover the epidemiological situation and overall response  to COVID-19, as well as the reliability of the available information and data sources. Reciprocity should also be taken into account on a case by case basis.

Schengen associated countries (Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, Switzerland) also take part in this recommendation.


On 30 June 2020 the Council adopted a recommendation on the gradual lifting of the temporary restrictions on non-essential travel into the EU. This recommendation included an initial list of countries for which member states should start lifting the travel restrictions at the external borders. The list is reviewed every two weeks and, as the case may be, updated.

On 20 May, the Council adopted an amending recommendation to respond to the ongoing vaccination campaigns by introducing certain waivers for vaccinated persons and easing the criteria to lift restrictions for third countries. At the same time, the amendments take into account the possible risks posed by new variants by setting out an emergency brake mechanism to quickly react to the emergence of a variant of interest or concern in a third country.

The Council recommendation is not a legally binding instrument. The authorities of the member states remain responsible for implementing the content of the recommendation. They may, in full transparency, lift only progressively travel restrictions towards countries listed.

A member state should not decide to lift the travel restrictions for non-listed third countries before this has been decided in a coordinated manner.

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China disease expert says COVID-19 origins probe should shift to US - Global Times




A senior Chinese epidemiologist said the United States should be the priority in the next phase of investigations into the origin of COVID-19 after a study showed the disease could have been circulating there as early as December 2019, state media said on Thursday (17 June), write David Stanway and Samuel Shen, Reuters.

The study, published this week by the US National Institutes for Health (NIH), showed that at least seven people in five US states were infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, weeks before the United States reported its first official cases.

A China-World Health Organization (WHO) joint study published in March said COVID-19 most likely originated in the country's wildlife trade, with the virus passing into humans from bats via an intermediary species.

But Beijing has promoted the theory that COVID-19 entered China from overseas via contaminated frozen food, while a number of foreign politicians are also calling for more investigations into the possibility it leaked from a laboratory.

Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told state-owned tabloid the Global Times that attention should shift to the United States, which was slow to test people in the early stages of the outbreak, and is also the home of many biological laboratories.

"All bio-weapons related subjects that the country has should be subject to scrutiny," he was quoted as saying.

Commenting on the US study on Wednesday (16 June), foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said it was now "obvious" the COVID-19 outbreak had "multiple origins" and that other countries should co-operate with the WHO.

The origin of the pandemic has become a source of political tension between China and the United States, with much of the recent focus on the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), located in Wuhan where the outbreak was first identified in late 2019.

China has been criticised for its lack of transparency when it comes to disclosing data about early cases as well as the viruses studied at WIV.

A report by a US government national laboratory concluded that it was plausible that the virus had leaked from the Wuhan lab, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month.

A previous study has raised the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 could have been circulating in Europe as early as September, but experts said this didn’t necessarily mean it did not originate in China, where many SARS-like coronaviruses have been found in the wild.

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