BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union threatened on Wednesday to ban COVID-19 vaccine exports to Britain to safeguard the meager doses for its own citizens facing a third wave of the pandemic that would jeopardize plans to restart travel. this summer.
With the number of COVID-related deaths in the EU topping 550,000 and less than a tenth of the bloc’s population being inoculated, European Commission Director Ursula von der Leyen said the epidemiological situation was getting worse.
“We are in the crisis of the century,” he told reporters.
“We see the crest of a third wave forming in the member states and we know we have to accelerate vaccination rates.”
Von der Leyen said the flow of vaccine products was smooth with the United States, but expressed frustration at the lack of AstraZeneca deliveries in Britain. He said that 10 million doses had passed from EU plants to the former member state.
“We are still waiting for the doses to come from the UK,” von der Leyen said in the latest sign of bitter ties between Britain and the 27-nation bloc since Brexit.
“If this situation does not change, we will have to reflect on how to make exports to vaccine-producing countries depend on their level of openness. We will reflect on whether exports to countries with higher vaccination rates than ourselves continue to be proportionate ”.
He spoke as six EU countries complained to Brussels about cutbacks in deliveries that are hampering the bloc’s already troubled vaccination campaign, which is struggling amid cuts to AstraZeneca deliveries.
To further complicate the picture, several EU nations, including its most important members Germany, France and Italy, have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine this week pending safety checks.
The situation threatens plans announced by the Commission to launch a “green digital certificate” that would collect information on COVID vaccines, testing and recovery to allow travelers to freely cross borders again.
Tourism-dependent southern EU countries and other proponents of the new COVID-19 certificate hope it will get final approvals in June and go online in time for peak season. But countries like France, Belgium and Germany have expressed skepticism.
EU countries will be under pressure to quickly agree on a common position for its 450 million inhabitants. The task is further complicated by uncertainty about whether those inoculated can transmit the virus and public skepticism about vaccines.
Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Philip Blenkinsop, Francesco Guarascio, Sabine Siebold, Jan Strupczewski, Foo Yun Chee, written by Gabriela Baczynska, edited by John Chalmers and Andrew Cawthorne