Australia is seeking assurances from the European Union’s executive arm that future shipments of vaccines will not be blocked, after Italy banned a large export of the AstraZeneca coronavirus shots.
The shipment to Australia of more than a quarter-million doses was blocked from leaving the 27-nation bloc — the first use of an export control system instituted by the EU to make sure big pharma companies respect their EU contracts.
The ban was requested by Italian authorities and approved by the EU in a move that frustrated the Australian government.
“The world is in uncharted territory at present, it’s unsurprising that some countries would tear up the rule book,” Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told Sky News Australia on Friday. Birmingham acknowledged, however, that Australia received 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine last week, and “that will see our current distribution plan work.”
Australia’s immunization program began last month and the government expects the vaccine will be made available to anyone who wants it by October. The country has secured 53.8 million doses of the vaccine made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, 50 million of which will be made in Australia in a partnership with Melbourne-based biopharmaceutical company CSL.
“We are obviously disappointed and frustrated by this decision,” Birmingham said. “It is very much a reminder of the desperation that exists in other parts of the world, compared with the very good position we found ourselves in here in Australia.”
According to Australian media, Health Minister Greg Hunt has asked the European Commission to review the Italian decision.
The shipment ban was the latest development in the dispute between the EU and AstraZeneca over delays in deliveries.
Faced with shortages of doses during the early stages of the vaccine campaign that started in late December in the bloc, the EU issued an export control system for COVID-19 vaccines in late January, forcing companies to respect their contractual obligations to the bloc before commercial exports can be approved.
The EU has been specifically angry with AstraZeneca because it is delivering far fewer doses to the bloc than it had promised. Of the initial order for 80 million doses to the EU in the first quarter, the company will be struggling to deliver half that quantity.
The EU thought it had made excellent preparations for the rollout of vaccines. With its 450 million people, the EU has signed deals for six different vaccines. In total, it has ordered up to 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and sealed agreements with other companies for more than 2 billion shots.
But only 33 million doses have been given so far, and only 11 million Europeans have been fully vaccinated. Despite the current difficulties, the EU’s goal remains to vaccinate 70 per cent of the adult population in the bloc by the end of summer.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 6:45 a.m. ET
What’s happening in Canada
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As of early Friday morning, Canada had reported 878,396 cases of COVID-19, with 29,903 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,151.
A fourth COVID-19 vaccine — a single-dose product form Johnson & Johnson that has already been approved in the U.S. — could soon be approved for use in Canada. Dr. Supriya Sharma, senior medical adviser at Health Canada, said Thursday there could be a decision within the next seven days.
In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick reported five new deaths on Thursday. Health officials in Nova Scotia reported three new cases of COVID-19, while Prince Edward Island reported one new case.
Quebec reported 707 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 20 additional deaths. Health officials said hospitalizations stood at 626, with 115 people in intensive care.
Ontario will decide Friday what level of restrictions to place on three COVID-19 hot spots still under strict stay-at-home orders. The government extended those orders for Toronto, Peel Region and North Bay two weeks ago due to high virus case numbers.
Health officials in Canada’s most populous province reported 994 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 10 additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 649, with 281 COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 51 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths on Thursday. In neighbouring Saskatchewan, health officials reported 169 new cases of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, and two additional deaths.
In Alberta, health officials reported 331 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and nine additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 245, the province said, with 47 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.
British Columbia reported 564 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths on Thursday. The province had 248 COVID-19 patients in hospital. with 63 in intensive care units.
Across the North, there were 10 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Nunavut on Thursday, all in the community of Arviat. There were no news cases reported Thursday in Yukon or the Northwest Territories.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Friday morning, more than 115.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, with more than 65.3 million of the cases listed on the Johns Hopkins University tracking site as resolved. The global death toll stood at more than 2.5 million.
In the Americas, after two straight days of record COVID-19 deaths in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday told Brazilians to stop “whining” and move on, in his latest remarks attacking distancing measures and downplaying the gravity of the pandemic.
Brazil has the world’s second-highest death toll over the past year, after the United States. While the U.S. outbreak is ebbing, Brazil is facing its worst phase of the epidemic yet, pushing its hospital system to the brink of collapse.
“Enough fussing and whining. How much longer will the crying go on?” Bolsonaro told a crowd at an event. “How much longer will you stay at home and close everything? No one can stand it anymore. We regret the deaths, again, but we need a solution.”
The country’s health ministry registered 75,102 additional cases of coronavirus on Thursday, the most in a single day since July and the second-highest on record. Brazil also recorded 1,699 more fatalities from the respiratory illness, down slightly from the previous two days of record deaths.
Brazil’s surging second wave has triggered new restrictions in its capital, Brasilia, and its largest city, Sao Paulo. Tourist mecca Rio de Janeiro on Thursday announced a city-wide curfew and early closing time for restaurants.
Cuba has begun late-stage trials of its most advanced experimental COVID-19 vaccine, edging closer to a potential home-grown inoculation.
In Europe, France will extend COVID-19 weekend lockdowns to the region around the Channel coast town of Calais, following similar lockdowns around Nice and Dunkirk.
In the Middle East, Kuwait will impose a 5 p.m to 5 a.m. curfew and close parks from Sunday until April 8 in a bid to contain the coronavirus, the government’s spokesperson said on state TV.
In Africa, Kenya began vaccinating people on Friday against COVID-19 with AstraZeneca shots hoped to help revive the battered tourism-dependent economy of East Africa’s richest nation.
“This may mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic,” said Susan Mochache, a senior official at the health ministry.
Nairobi received over a million AstraZeneca doses on Wednesday, the first of 3.56 million shots via the global, vaccine-sharing COVAX facility. Top of the list are 400,000 health staff and other essential workers.
Kenya plans to vaccinate 1.25 million people by June and another 9.6 million in the next phase, with more vaccines expected within weeks.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan’s regulators were asked on Friday to approve use of the COVID-19 vaccine of Moderna Inc., the third such vaccine in the nation that began its inoculation effort last month.
The filing was announced by Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., which is handling domestic approval and imports of about 50 million doses of the Moderna shot. Takeda has previously said approval could be given in May.
-From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 7:15 a.m. ET