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VACCINE

Austria: When will Russia’s Sputnik V be available?

Austria is has signed a deal with Russia to import the Sputnik V vaccine. When will the vaccine be available in Austria?

Austria: When will Russia’s Sputnik V be available?
Photo: Federico PARRA / AFP

Austria on April 19th announced it had sealed a deal to purchase one million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. 

Austria importing the Russian vaccine will make it the third EU member to have done so after Hungary and Slovakia – although only Hungary has started administering the vaccine. 

The announcement however raised several questions, including whether the Austrian government would push ahead to administer the vaccine or whether it would wait for approval from the European Union – and when exactly the vaccine would be available. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

What’s the status of the deal?

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in early April “we are in the closing stages and an order for Sputnik V can probably be placed next week”. 

The announcement of the done deal was made on April 19th

Kurz said on social media he was “very happy about the binding delivery promise” he made with Russia’s ambassador Dmitrij Lyubinsky. 

https://twitter.com/sebastiankurz/status/1377284063543889928

Austria’s Der Standard newspaper reported on Wednesday that Austria looks set to place a delivery of the vaccine even before it receives approval from the European Union’s medical authority. 

The office of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told AFP on Tuesday that the talks had started on February 26th over the delivery of 300,000 doses in April, 500,000 in May and 200,000 in early June 2021. 

Why is Sputnik V not approved? 

Though EU member Hungary is already administering Sputnik V and a total of 57 countries have authorised its use, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), it is still under review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The EU in March began a process to assess the vaccine, although EU authorities were critical in late March when they were not allowed to visit the manufacturing site. 

Can Austria start administering the vaccine without EMA approval? 

Yes. EU law allows countries to trigger what’s known as an ‘emergency approval’ process, which allows the vaccine to be administered locally before the EMA approves it. 

However, in on April 19th Austrian leaders announced publicly that they would not use the emergency approval process and would instead wait for the OK from the EMA. 

READ MORE: Austria rejects emergency approval for Russia’s Sputnik vaccine

In this case, while Austrian officials have already indicated they believe the vaccine to be safe, presumably the vaccine would be available to the public once it had been approved by Austrian health authorities. 

When will Sputnik V be administered in Austria? 

At this stage, nobody knows when vaccinations with Sputnik V are likely to start. 

Austria’s Der Standard reports that a delivery could be made as soon as the first week of April, although there is no guarantee of immediate injections. 

Why don’t we know more? 

Specifics of the arrangement are difficult to determine however as the deal is subject to a confidentiality agreement, Austrian media reports

For instance, in the early days of the negotiations, foreign media reported that the deal to import the vaccine has already been done, whereas Austrian media – and Kurz – have indicated it is not yet finalised. 

Why is Austria pushing hard for Sputnik earlier than other EU countries? 

Earlier this month, Kurz and five other central and eastern EU leaders urged Brussels to find a “correction mechanism” to fix what they called the unfair distribution of coronavirus vaccines within the bloc.

“If Austria receives an additional one million vaccine doses, we will be able to return to normality faster and could save many lives as well as jobs,” Kurz said.

“There should be no geopolitical blinkers when it comes to the vaccine. The only thing that should matter is whether the vaccine is effective and safe, and not where it comes from.”

Austrian Health Minister Rudolf Anschober agreed, saying “One thing is clear: every vaccine used in Austria must be effective and safe”. 

The Russian vaccine has an effectiveness of around 92 percent.

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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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