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VACCINE

Austria and Denmark chided by EU ally over Israel vaccine plan

France has criticised a push by Austria and Denmark to coordinate with Israel on developing new Covid-19 jabs, as EU unity frays even further over its troubled vaccine rollout. 

Austria and Denmark chided by EU ally over Israel vaccine plan
Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz (foreground) and Danish PM Mette Frederiksen (standing) during a meeting with other EU leaders in early 2020. Photo: Pool/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced the Israeli partnership on Monday, saying the European Medicines Agency (EMA) was “too slow in approving vaccines” leaving the bloc vulnerable to supply bottlenecks at pharmaceutical companies.

READ ALSO: Denmark and Austria to agree partnership with Israel on Covid-19 vaccines

But France’s foreign ministry defended the agency and insisted that “the most effective solution for meeting our vaccination needs must remain within a European framework”.

“This is what guarantees the solidarity among member states that is more essential than ever,” it said in a statement late Wednesday.

European officials are under pressure to step up vaccination drives that have lagged behind those of other countries, including Israel  and Britain, which approved coronavirus vaccines several weeks before the EMA.

“We should not be solely dependent on the EU any more,” Kurz said ahead of a trip to Israel with his Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen on Thursday to agree on common production of future vaccines and cooperation on research.

Austria’s neighbours Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic have already bypassed the EMA to approve Russian and Chinese coronavirus vaccines.

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian acknowledged on Wednesday “significant” shortcomings in the EU’s vaccination policies, but criticised what he called “attempts at secession”.

European nations should instead pool their resources to increase vaccine production capacity in Europe, “something we are in the process of doing”, the ministry said in its statement.

“The approval process for the European market has also been reviewed, with the introduction of ’emergency procedures’ for vaccines targeting new variants,” it added.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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