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COVID-19

EU states seek summit on unfair vaccine handouts as AstraZeneca announce more delays

Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Latvia have called for a EU summit to discuss "huge disparities" in the distribution of vaccines, according to a letter published Saturday.

EU states seek summit on unfair vaccine handouts as AstraZeneca announce more delays
(Photo by JENS SCHLUETER / AFP)

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz suggested Friday that some members of the European Union may have signed “secret contracts” with vaccine companies to receive more doses than they were entitled to as per EU-wide agreements.

Kurz and his four counterparts on Friday sent a letter to Ursula Von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and Charles Michel, president of the European Council, claiming that “deliveries of vaccine doses by pharma companies to individual EU member states are not being implemented on an equal
basis.”

“If this system were to carry on, it would continue creating and exacerbating huge disparities among member states by this summer, whereby some would be able to reach herd immunity in a few weeks while others would lag far behind,” the letter said.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Photo: YVES HERMAN / AFP / POOL

“We therefore call on you… to hold a discussion on this important matter among leaders as soon as possible,” it said.

Kurz on Friday described “bazaars” where some member states made additional agreements with vaccine companies, but an EU spokesman said that it was up to members states to “ask less or more of a given vaccine.”

The Austrian health ministry also dismissed Kurz’s claims, reiterating the EU’s statement that each member state was allowed to say how many doses of the various vaccines it wanted to procure.

“These were very balanced and transparent negotiations,” Ines Stilling, general secretary of the Austrian health ministry, said in an interview with the public broadcaster Saturday.

The European Union has blamed its sluggish vaccine rollout on supply and delivery problems and continues to lag behind the United States, Israel and the United Kingdom in terms of the percentage of the population that has already received at least one dose.

READ ALSO: France will not halt use of AstraZeneca vaccine, says health minister

The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca announced a new shortfall in planned vaccine shipments to the European Union on Saturday, citing production problems and export restrictions.

“AstraZeneca is disappointed to announce a shortfall in planned COVID-19 vaccine shipments to the European Union (EU) despite working tirelessly to accelerate supply,” it said in a statement.

The company had previously warned it was facing shortfalls from its European supply chain due to “lower-than-expected output from the production process.”

It was hoping to compensate for part of the shortfall by sourcing vaccines from its global network, with half of the EU’s supply in the second quarter and 10 million doses in the first quarter due to come from its international supply chain.

READ ALSO: AstraZeneca suspension: Blood-clot risk ‘no higher in vaccinated people’

(Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

“Unfortunately, export restrictions will reduce deliveries in the first quarter, and are likely to affect deliveries in the second quarter,” it added.

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AstraZeneca started delivery of the vaccine to the EU in February, and still aims to deliver 100 million doses in the first half of 2021, of which 30 million are due to be delivered in the first quarter.

The under-fire firm said it was “collaborating with the EU Commission and member states to address the supply challenges.

“It remains confident that productivity in its EU supply chain will continue to improve, to help protect millions of Europeans against the virus.”

READ ALSO: Covid-19: Italy bans batch of AstraZeneca vaccine

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ENVIRONMENT

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy

The northern cities of Milan and Turin were named Italy's 'smog capitals' in a new pollution report on Monday which urged the government to take action over poor air quality.

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy
Photo: Pixabay

Smog and pollution are choking Italian cities year-round and many towns are exceeding limits on fine particles and other pollution, according to another report from Italian environmental watchdog Legambiente.

The Mal’aria di città (Air pollution in the city) report for 2023, unveiled on Monday, was the latest to warn about the risks to health posed by pollution in many parts of the country.

It found that 25 of 95 cities monitored had violated clean air ordinances by exceeding daily fine particle (PM10) emission limits, which are currently set at no more than 35 days a year with a daily average of over 50 micrograms per cubic metre.

Turin was ranked as the worst offender, exceeding this level on 90 days, closely followed by Milan (84), Asti (79), Modena (75), and Padua and Venice at 70.

These were followed by Cremona, Treviso, Mantua and Rovigo, all of which exceeded limits to a lesser degree.

All of the most polluted cities were in the northern Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto, with most within the north-western ‘industrial triangle’.

Some southern cities featured nearer the bottom of the ranking, with Andria (Puglia) and Ragusa (Sicily) exceeding limits on several days, as well as Rome, which overshot the permitted level for one day.

(Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The average annual rate of PM10 emissions nationwide dropped slightly, by two percent year-on-year, the report found.

“This, however, is not enough to guarantee the health of citizens,” said Stefano Ciafani, president of Legambiente.

He pointed out that the situation looked even worse if air quality in Italian cities were measured against tighter limits under the new European Directive on air quality, in force from 2030, which lowers the PM10 threshold from 35 to 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

“Only 23 out of 96 cities (24 percent) would be under these limits,” Ciafani said, while 84 percent would exceed the threshold for PM2.5 and 61 percent for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Italy has repeatedly been reprimanded by the European Union over air quality, and has “persistently and systematically” breached EU recommended limits, the European Court of Justice ruled in 2020.

The north of Italy has long been ranked among the worst areas in Europe for polluted air according to data from the European Environment Agency.

“Air pollution is not only an environmental problem, but also a health problem of great importance,” said Ciafani. “In Europe, it’s the main cause of premature death due to environmental factors.”

“Italy has more than 52,000 deaths per year caused by PM2.5 emissions, equal to a fifth of those recorded throughout the continent,” he said.

The main causes of air pollution in Italian cities are reported to be industry, inefficient domestic heating systems, agricultural practices and, most of all, heavy traffic.

In Italy, cars continue to be by far the most-used means of transport. 65.3 percent of journeys overall are made by car, Legambiante wrote, with the emissions from some 38 million cars choking Italy’s towns and cities.

(Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

Legambiente said “drastic” measures were required to tackle the problem, including funds for more efficient heating systems in homes and public buildings and a major increase in public transport provision.

The group said Italy must “quadruple the availability of public transit, promoting integrated season tickets as done by Germany in 2022”, triple the number of electric buses, create zero-emission zones in town centres, and “create another 16,000 kilometres of cycle paths”.

It also praised local authorities choosing to bring in 30 km/h speed limits in city centres. Councils in Bologna, Turin, Milan and Cesena have all said they plan to implement these limits, following the lead of European cities including Paris and Madrid, despite fierce criticism from Italian transport minister Matteo Salvini.

Legambiente published a petition urging the government to make clean air and more livable cities a priority, saying Italy should follow Paris in attempting to create ’15-minute cities’, in which everyone lives within a quarter of an hour’s walk of vital amenities such as shops and schools and possibly also workplaces.