Half Of Europeans Vaccinated As Germany Warns On Rising COVID-19 Cases

Medical staff prepare Moderna coronavirus vaccines for use at the newly-opened mass vaccination centre in Tokyo on May 24, 2021. (Photo by Carl Court / POOL / AFP)

 

More than half of all European adults are now fully vaccinated, the EU said Thursday, as several countries across Europe and Asia battle fresh outbreaks blamed on the fast-spreading Delta variant.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said cases in her country were rising “exponentially”, while in Japan the delayed Olympics Games were set to open with almost no spectators and with a blanket of Covid rules in place.

And the spotlight once again turned to the virus’ origins after the WHO called for an audit of the Chinese lab at the heart of speculations about where the virus first emerged, sparking a fiery response from Beijing.

More than four million people have now died from the virus since it first emerged in December 2019, and though vaccines are picking up globally, Delta is fuelling a rise in infections and prompting governments to re-impose anti-virus measures to avoid dreaded new waves.

The EU said on Thursday that 200 million Europeans had been fully vaccinated, more than half of the adult population but still short of a 70 percent target set for the summer.

The fresh data came as Merkel urged more Germans to get vaccinated, sounding the alarm over a fresh spike in cases in Germany.

“The infection figures are rising again and with a clear and worrying dynamic,” Merkel told a press conference in Berlin.

“We are seeing exponential growth,” she said, adding that “every vaccination… is a small step towards a return to normality”.

Germany on Thursday recorded 1,890 new infections over the past 24 hours and an incidence rate of 12.2 new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days — more than double rates in early July.

“With a rising incidence rate, it could be that we need to introduce additional measures,” she said.

– Dominant Delta –

Germany joins a number of European nations that have seen cases climb in recent weeks.

The new outbreaks have been largely fuelled by the Delta variant, first detected in India, which is expected to become the dominant strain of the virus over the coming months, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday.

It has now been recorded in 124 territories — 13 more than last week — and already accounts for more than three-quarters of sequenced specimens in many major countries.

France this week rolled out new rules requiring a so-called health pass for all events or places with more than 50 people before being extended to restaurants, cafes and shopping centres in August.

People need to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to gain access, after the country reported a new surge — more 21,000 new cases on Wednesday, the highest level since early May.

Cases are also soaring in the UK, where most restrictions were lifted this week, and on Thursday British supermarkets warned of possible food shortages because staff were being forced to self-isolate.

Countries in Asia are seeing some of their worst outbreaks to date, with Indonesia becoming a new global hotspot as Vietnam and Thailand face new anti-virus rules.

In Tokyo, the Olympics were due to open Friday after a year-long pandemic delay, though it promised to be a Games like no other in history.

Spectators are mostly banned, and athletes, journalists and organisers are subject to strict virus measures during the event being held under a Covid cloud.

“It’s completely different from the last Games (in 1964) when the whole city was filled with festive mood,” said 80-year-old Tokyo resident Michiko Fukui.

– Psychological strain

With no clear end to the pandemic in sight, attention turned once again to the international probe origins of the virus.

The WHO said last week that a second stage of the probe should include audits of Chinese labs, as the US increases pressure for an investigation into a biotech lab in Wuhan.

Long dismissed as a right-wing conspiracy theory and vehemently rejected by Beijing, the idea that Covid-19 may have emerged from a lab leak has been gaining momentum.

But China’s vice health minister Zeng Yixin told reporters Thursday that he was “extremely surprised” by the WHO plan, which he said showed “disrespect for common sense and arrogance towards science”.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, the agency focused on another aspect of the pandemic: a mounting mental health crisis brought on by anxieties around catching the virus, the psychological impact of lockdowns and isolation, along with stresses linked to unemployment and financial worries.

“Everyone is affected in one way or another,” the WHO said in a statement at a meeting in Athens Thursday.

“The mental health impacts of the pandemic will be long term and far-reaching.”

AFP

Asylum Applications In EU Dived Under COVID-19 Curbs

File Photo: ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / AFP

 

The number of asylum applications lodged in the EU plummeted by a third last year because of border restrictions thrown up by the coronavirus pandemic, the bloc’s asylum assistance agency said on Tuesday.

However, the European Asylum Support Office pointed out in its annual report that this in no way meant that demand for asylum in Europe has dropped.

“We know that globally there are still record numbers of persons in need of international protection, but they were simply not able to make it to Europe,” the office’s head Nina Gregori said as she presented the report.

The report’s figures confirmed initial data released by the office in February, indicating the lowest level of asylum applications in the EU and associated countries since 2013.

Last year saw 485,000 applications received, 32 percent less than the 716,000 made in 2019.

Of those, 42 percent were given some form of international protection allowing the applicant to stay. Half of the approved cases were given refugee status, while the remainder were awarded humanitarian or subsidiary protection.

– Resettlement ‘standstill’ –

Germany, France and Spain were the countries fielding most of the asylum applications.

Some eastern EU countries registered upticks in asylum applications through 2020 — but Hungary, which has taken a fiercely anti-immigrant stance in the bloc, stood out with applications it received diving by three-quarters.

Migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Colombia, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, Nigeria and Somalia were the biggest groups of applicants.

While Covid crimped the ability of would-be asylum-seekers to get to Europe, it also brought the EU’s common asylum system to “near standstill”, the report said.

Resettlements to Europe via legal channels was reduced by more than half, while efforts to return failed asylum applicants to the origin countries foundered on travel restrictions and closed borders.

The European Commission is working to get a new pact on migration off the ground, and on Tuesday it struck a provisional agreement with the European Parliament on draft legislation to turn the support office into a full-fledged EU Asylum Agency.

“The new agency … will help make asylum procedures in the member states of higher quality, more uniform and faster,” a commission spokesman said.

The agency would have 500 asylum experts ready to be deployed to member states to bolster processing of applications.

Its establishment comes in the wake of a beefed-up EU border agency, Frontex, which is the bloc’s first uniformed service.

AFP

EU Allows Data To Keep Flowing To Britain

A logo for the European Union

 

The European Commission on Monday said it had adopted decisions allowing Europeans’ data to keep flowing to Britain, satisfied that protections had so far not been affected by Brexit.

London’s “legal regime of protecting personal data is as it was,” the commission vice president in charge of transparency, Vera Jourova, said in a statement.

“We have significant safeguards and if anything changes on the UK side, we will intervene,” she said.

The two decisions, on the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) rules on personal data protection and on a law enforcement directive, mean that personal data collected in the EU and going to Britain “benefits from an essentially equivalent level of protection to that guaranteed under EU law”.

The decisions will notably ensure that British-based companies reliant on EU citizens’ data can continue to operate.

A post-Brexit transition period leaving rules on data flows unchanged was to run out at the end of June.

The EU decisions, however, came with a few riders.

For one, there is a “sunset clause” limiting the adequacy agreement to four years.

And should Britain at any time deviate from the GDPR, “the commission can decide at any point in time to suspend, to terminate or to amend the decision,” a commission spokesman told journalists.

Also, personal data related to immigration control is excluded from the overall agreement, in light of a British court decision a month ago ruling that restrictions imposed by the GDPR in that area were incompatible with UK law.

“The EU has the highest standards when it comes to personal data protection and these must not be compromised when personal data is transferred abroad,” EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders said.

AFP

UK Joins US, EU, Canada In Fresh Sanctions On Belarus

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaks during his meeting with parliamentarians, members of Constitutional Commission and representatives of public administration bodies in Minsk on May 26, 2021. (Photo by Maxim GUCHEK / BELTA / AFP)

 

Britain on Monday said it had joined the United States, Canada and the European Union in imposing fresh sanctions on Belarus after the detention of an opposition journalist.

The government said it had imposed travel bans and asset freezes against “senior-ranking officials” in President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, as well as oil firm BNK (UK) Ltd.

“The sanctions send a strong signal to the Belarusian authorities that the UK will not tolerate those who repress human rights coming to the UK or using our financial institutions,” the foreign office said in a statement.

Britain said its sanctions were imposed separate to the EU, which it left last year, but in parallel to those announced by Washington, Ottawa and Brussels.

It follows outrage at the diversion in May of a Ryanair flight, which was forced to land in Minsk, upon which Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend were detained.

The British foreign office said the restrictions on BNK (UK) Ltd, which exports Belarusian oil products, would “significantly impact one of the regime’s main revenue streams”.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “The Lukashenko regime endangered the lives of airline passengers and crew in a shameful ruse to snatch Roman Protasevich.

“We will hold the regime to account in coordination with our allies including through further banning travel, freezing assets and cutting off oil export revenue streams.”

In September last year, Britain announced sanctions on human rights grounds against Lukashenko himself, his son and senior figures in the Belarusian government.

AFP

EU Members Approve Return Of US Travellers

File Photo

 

European Union member states have agreed to lift coronavirus travel restrictions on travellers from eight countries and territories including the United States, officials and diplomats said Wednesday.

The white list of countries and regions exempted from the travel ban will be expanded to include Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia, Lebanon, the United States, Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong, they said.

EU member states can still choose to require travellers from these areas to undergo Covid-19 testing or to observe periods in quarantine, but once the new list is approved the recommendation is that they should be exempted from a blanket travel ban.

Because of the pandemic, the EU closed its external borders in March 2020 for non-essential travel, and for the past year has drawn up a regularly updated list of non-member states whose residents are allowed to travel to Europe.

Japan, Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand were already on the approved list.

Countries can be included if they have recorded fewer than 75 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 inhabitants over the past 14 days. In the United States this rate is 73.9, according to figures from the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC).

News that the United States is to be added to the approved list came one day after Brussels and Washington renewed friendlier ties at a summit between President Joe Biden and EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel.

AFP

ICRC Chief Urges EU To Respect Refugee Law

 

 

The EU needs to respect refugee law as it copes with migration flows, many of which are triggered by wars, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday.

Peter Maurer underscored that point in an interview with AFP touching on many of the conflicts in which the Swiss-based ICRC is working.

Generally the last decade has seen a multiplication of conflicts, where “each year we think we may have one less conflict — and then we add two more”, he said.

“One of the consequences of violence in many places is migration, is displacement, is irregular displacements: When we look at the 25 largest operations of ICRC, they come from regions which at the end of the day are at the origin of more than 80 percent of irregular displacements in the world.”

Speaking in Brussels, where he was detailing ICRC’s humanitarian operations to EU officials in charge of funding many of his organisation’s activities, Maurer emphasised that the European Union should uphold its much vaunted commitment to international humanitarian law.

While offering no explicit criticisms — in keeping with the ICRC’s mantra of discretion that helps guarantee its access to all sides in war-torn areas — he noted that irregular migration into Europe was “a very controversial and very delicate issue”.

The most dramatic scenes happened six years ago, when many asylum-seekers streamed out of Syria, but have since reduced under a border-guarding deal done with Turkey and, since last year, the Covid pandemic.

READ ALSO: IMF Approves $772 Million Credit For Angola

But numbers are starting to tick up again, particularly in Mediterranean boat crossings.

“I think there is a humanitarian component, which we will continue to insist… has to be taken care of,” Maurer said.

“There are legal frameworks, which are not only here to be respected by others, but also by those who promote those legal frameworks. And I think the European Union… should set an example on how to respect with all seriousness, international humanitarian law and refugee law.”

– Europeans in Syria –

Maurer’s visit included talks with the Belgian government on its recent push to repatriate its citizens — particularly children — being held in Syrian refugee camps where many radicalised Europeans who joined the Islamic State group are being detained.

While recognising that Europe faces problems prosecuting those in the camps, the ICRC chief said: “We think it doesn’t lead to more security if children, women, and also those who are in detention in that region, are kept without processing in this detention.”

He called it “an issue of collective interest of the international community”.

Of Syria generally he described “a highly complex situation” after 10 years of conflict in which four out of five Syrians live below the poverty line.

“This is, of course, a serious concern in humanitarian terms, but also in terms of stability of the country and the whole region. And so we do advocate for more flexible assistance into Syria, helping to stop the disintegration of social services to stabilise the situation.”

Afghanistan — where ICRC has been giving assistance for 30 years — is also of concern, especially with the security situation becoming even more volatile as the US military pulls out.

The IS group is increasingly making its presence felt there, for instance by claiming responsibility for the massacre this week of 10 NGO workers for the HALO Trust clearing landmines north of the capital Kabul.

“For a long time, we have drawn the attention of the international community to the fact that Afghanistan was not only about the Taliban and the Afghan government and the foreign presence, but it was also about more radical groups and groups questioning the peace process coming to the forefront,” Maurer said.

It was, he said, “foreseeable that a more and more complex situation would emerge” in Afghanistan, but he added: “We are certainly determined to stay as long as possible.”

– Local staff –

The ICRC itself has taken on changes under Maurer to better work in the increasing number of conflict areas, notably by boosting reliance on, and responsibilities, of its local workers in countries where it operates.

It is an exercise in finding the right balance, to ensure the organisation — majority funded by governments, with those of US, Germany, Switzerland and Britain to the fore — maintains its neutral status.

But, Maurer said, “I think we are increasingly aware also that we just can’t fly in and out like a helicopter into conflict regions, and that we need to understand the local dynamics and that we need to be able to work on local voices, local operators, local intelligence, local insights”.

European Commission Opens Case Against Germany Over Primacy Of EU Law

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The European Commission on Wednesday launched a case against Germany to assert the primacy of EU law over rulings from its national constitutional court.

The EU executive in Brussels began something called an “infringement procedure”, the official name for long legal procedure that was first reported by AFP on Tuesday.

Last year, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe delayed the Berlin government’s approval of a European Central Bank bond-buying programme — despite it having been approved by European courts.

Karlsruhe eventually concluded the bond-buying could go ahead, but Brussels argues that ECB actions are governed by EU not German law and is preparing a case to assert this.

The Brussels-based commission has already criticised countries like Poland several times for refusing to implement rulings of the European Court of Justice — and wants to make EU funding dependent on respect for the EU legal order.

The infringement procedure consists of several stages and may lead to a referral to the European Court of Justice.

For Brussels, the German court’s ruling is “a dangerous precedent for Union law, both for the practice of the German Constitutional court itself, and for the supreme and constitutional courts and tribunals of other member states,” an explanatory note said.

Many in Germany oppose actions by the central bank to buy bonds, arguing that increasing the money supply to help the broader EU economy will hit German savers with inflation and lower interest rates.

Attempts to use the German courts to halt this have so far proved unsuccessful, but Brussels is keen to close off this avenue of attack by confirming the European Court of Justice as final arbiter.

AFP

#TwitterBan: US, UK, EU Envoys Insist Nigeria Must Protect Freedom Of Expression

 

The envoys of the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union in Nigeria among others, have insisted that the Federal Government’s suspension of Twitter, is a violation of the fundamental human right of freedom of expression.

The envoys who met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, in Abuja on Monday, urged the government to protect freedom of expression.

US ambassador to Nigeria, Mary-Beth Leonards, who spoke on behalf of others said they were delighted to see Nigeria succeed, and that all challenges have solutions.

“We are here as partners who want to see Nigeria succeed. We want to see this place unified, peaceful and prosperous and that’s how all of our activities are arranged. I think we have to be very clear that we are Nigeria’s strong partners on issues of security and we recognise the daunting times and the array of security challenges that confront Nigeria.

“While they are daunting, they are not insurmountable and part of the way to surmount them is through partnership of the people you see represented here,” Leonards said.

 

Mary-Beth Leonards

 

“Not only in physical security but in terms of expanding opportunities and promoting mediation and dialogue; this is all very important and we look forward to continuing that partnership and continuing our conversation around important issues like media freedom.

“We re-affirm our position that free access to the ability to express oneself is actually very important and perhaps more important in troubled times.

Read Also: FG Gives Condition To Be Met Before Twitter Ban Is Lifted

Meanwhile, the Federal Government says it would restore Twitter operations in Nigeria if the platform would be used responsibly by the citizens.

While highlighting that the responsibility of the government is to protect law, order, and human lives, Onyeama made it clear that there is no definite time for lifting the ban.

“The condition would be a responsible use of the social media and that really has to be it.”

“We are not saying that Twitter is threatening the country or any such thing; why we have taken this measure is to stop them to be used as platforms for destabilization and facilitation of criminality or encouragement of criminalities,” Onyeama stated.

Top Diplomatic Missions ‘Disappointed’ With FG’s Twitter Ban

This photo combination shows US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, EU President Ursula von der Leyen and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
This photo combination shows US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, EU President Ursula von der Leyen and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

 

Prominent diplomatic missions to Nigeria, including Canada, the US, the UK and the EU, on Saturday said they were let down by the decision to suspend Twitter operations in Nigeria.

The Federal Government suspended the social network’s operations on Friday after Twitter deleted tweets from the official account of President Muhammadu Buhari.

The tweets, which Twitter said ran afoul of its policies, had referenced the country’s infamous civil war.

By early Saturday, users across the country started to experience difficulties in accessing the service and many resorted to using Virtual Private Networks (VPN).

“The diplomatic missions of Canada, the European Union (Delegation to Nigeria), the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America convey our disappointment over the Government of Nigeria’s announcement suspending #Twitter and proposing registration requirements for other social media,” a joint statement from the missions said.

“We strongly support the fundamental human right of free expression and access to information as a pillar of democracy in Nigeria as around the world and these rights apply online as well as offline.

“Banning systems of expression is not the answer. These measures inhibit access to information and commerce at precisely the moment when Nigeria needs to foster inclusive dialogue and expression of opinions, as well as share vital information in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more, not less, communication to accompany the concerted efforts of Nigeria’s citizens in fulsome dialogue toward unity, peace and prosperity. As Nigeria’s partners, we stand ready to assist in achieving these goals.”

Bad for Business

Earlier the United States had chided the Nigerian government’s over its decision.

“Nigeria’s constitution provides for freedom of expression,” a statement from the US Mission in Nigeria said.

“The Government’s recent #Twitterban undermines Nigerians’ ability to exercise this fundamental freedom and sends a poor message to its citizens, investors and businesses.

“Banning social media and curbing every citizen’s ability to seek, receive, and impart information undermines fundamental freedoms.

“As President Biden has stated, our need for individual expression, open public conversation, and accountability has never been greater.

“The path to a more secure Nigeria lies in more, not less communication, alongside concerted efforts toward unity, peace, and prosperity.”

EU, UK Probe Facebook Advertising Data Use

In this file illustration photo taken on March 25, 2020, a Facebook app logo is displayed on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP
In this file illustration photo taken on March 25, 2020, a Facebook app logo is displayed on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP

 

The European Union and Britain launched parallel competition probes on Friday into whether Facebook uses data from advertisers to unfairly dominate the online classifieds market.

The US social media behemoth sells classified advertising on its Marketplace service, but also gathers data from commercial advertising that may give it an unfair advantage — a charge the firm declared “without merit”.

Investigators will also probe whether Facebook’s single user log-in allows it to unfairly use data gathered across its social media, dating app, and advertising platforms.

The cases opened by the European Commission and Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) are separate, but the regulators are working closely together.

“Facebook collects vast troves of data on the activities of users of its social network and beyond,” EU vice-president and competition chief Margrethe Vestager said.

“We will look in detail at whether this data gives Facebook an undue competitive advantage in particular on the online classified ads sector, where people buy and sell goods every day, and where Facebook also competes with companies from which it collects data,” she said.

“In today’s digital economy, data should not be used in ways that distort competition.”

A Facebook spokesperson responded in an email: “We will continue to cooperate fully with the investigations to demonstrate that they are without merit.

“We are always developing new and better services to meet the evolving demand from people who use Facebook. ‘Marketplace’ and ‘Dating’ offer people more choices and both products operate in a highly competitive environment with many large incumbents.”

– Marketplace ads –
The formal probe follows a preliminary investigation focused on Facebook’s Marketplace classifieds service — available to most of its three billion users.

Companies advertising on Marketplace have to provide data to Facebook which the European Commission said led to concerns that the internet giant may distort competition.

“Facebook could, for instance, receive precise information on users’ preferences from its competitors’ advertisement activities and use such data in order to adapt Facebook Marketplace,” it said.

The EU executive is also concerned about how Marketplace is integrated into Facebook’s core social network platform — “a form of tying which gives it an advantage in reaching customers and forecloses competing for online classified ads services”.

There is no deadline for the probe to be wrapped up, with the commission saying its duration depended on factors including the complexity of the case.

– Internet gatekeepers –
The European Commission noted in its statement that former EU member Britain’s CMA also on Friday opened its own probe into the way Facebook uses data.

Britain has left the EU and now runs its own competition regime, but both regulators said they would work closely together to investigate Facebook.

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA — which set up a “Digital Markets Unit” in April — said they would assess whether Facebook’s business practices are giving it an unfair advantage in the online dating and classified ad sectors.

“Any such advantage can make it harder for competing firms to succeed, including new and smaller businesses, and may reduce customer choice.”

Last month, Brussels launched another probe into Facebook, related to its buyout of a US startup, Kustomer, that specialises in helping businesses interact with customers online.

Vestager and the European Commission have often clashed with US digital giants in the past and has formally accused Apple of unfairly squeezing out rivals from its app store.

The British CMA has also begun a probe of Apple and of Google’s privacy policy, suspecting both of breaking competition law.

The EU is currently preparing an ambitious law, known as the Digital Markets Act, that will set up special rules for so-called “gatekeepers” — the largely US platforms that dominate the consumer internet.

EU Pushes Hassle-Free Travel For Vaccinated Residents

EU Flag

 

Fully vaccinated residents in the EU should be exempt from Covid-19 quarantine when travelling within the bloc, the European Commission urged on Monday in a sign of increased confidence in its jabs rollout.

The EU executive’s update to its non-binding travel recommendations was unveiled a week before EU legislation on a Digital EU Covid Certificate is expected to be passed with enforceable measures across member states.

“The last weeks have brought a continuous downward trend in infection numbers, showing the success of the vaccination campaigns across the EU,” European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said.

That, along with a boost in affordable testing, means “member states are now slowly lifting Covid-19 restrictions both domestically and regarding travel,” he said.

When it comes into force from July 1, the European Union wants the Covid certificate to be used to allow travellers within the bloc to avoid testing or quarantine requirements if they can show they are fully vaccinated, have recovered from a Covid-19 infection, or have a recent negative test.

A Commission website – called a “gateway” – allowing border officers and other officials to check the validity of the certificates will go live on Tuesday.

– Getting a head start –
Commission officials said they encouraged member states to start issuing and accepting the Covid certificates in June, so that all EU countries were using it by the end of the month, in time for the peak summer tourist season.

Countries expected to be ready to issue certificates on Tuesday included Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Denmark and Poland.

France, the most-visited country on the planet pre-pandemic, was expected to be ready on June 9.

The Commission proposal urged member states to adopt many of the elements of the Covid certificate before it became law.

They included dropping entry restrictions on people able to show they had been fully inoculated with an EU-approved vaccine at least two weeks before travel, and adopting an “emergency brake” to swiftly restrict travel from regions with a Covid-19 variant of concern.

It also suggested member states should exempt children from quarantine, and those under six years of age from testing, to allow families to travel together.

Commission officials said that once the EU Covid certificate was operational it would pave the way to allowing in visitors from outside the bloc.

Member states can also make entry rules more flexible on their own territory, for instance by permitting half-vaccinated people in with no restrictions or those vaccinated with jabs authorised by the World Health Organisation but not the EU.

Currently, member states have collectively agreed a very restricted “white list” of low-risk countries whose residents can enter, including Australia, South Korea and Israel.

Discussions are under way with “many countries” — including the United States — to allow mutual recognition of the EU’s certificate and their own vaccination proof to broaden travel internationally, an EU official said.

EU Approves Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine For 12 To 15-Year-Olds

A laboratory technician holds a Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines at the Bidafarma wholesale distribution cooperative in Santa Fe, on the outskirts of near Granada, on January 21, 2021. JORGE GUERRERO / AFP
A laboratory technician holds a Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines at the Bidafarma wholesale distribution cooperative in Santa Fe, on the outskirts of near Granada, on January 21, 2021.
JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

 

The EU’s drug watchdog on Friday approved the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus jab for 12 to 15-year-olds, the first vaccine to get the green light for children in the bloc.

The vaccine was “well tolerated” in adolescents and there were no “major concerns” in terms of side effects, the Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency said.

The move will be a further boost for Europe’s vaccination programme, with Germany saying it will start giving the jab to children over the age of 12 from next month.

The United States and Canada have already authorised Pfizer for adolescents.

READ ALSO: EU, AstraZeneca Battle In Court Over Vaccine Delays

“As anticipated, the EMA’s Committee for Human Medicines has today approved the use of the vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech in adolescents from 12 to 15 years,” Marco Cavaleri, the EMA’s head of vaccine strategy, told a news conference.

Until now the shot made by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German research firm BioNTech had only been authorised by the EU for people aged 16 and older.

EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides hailed it as “one step closer to ending the pandemic”, but said people would still have the choice about whether their children should get the jab.

“Beyond the decisions of governments, this is ultimately a decision to be made by parents for their children,” she said on Twitter.

With EU countries trying to expand their vaccination coverage, EMA chief Emer Cooke has said the regulator fast-tracked the approval, which was originally expected in June.

‘Highly preventative’

The watchdog insisted that it had taken the necessary steps to ensure it was safe.

Trials showed the Pfizer vaccine was “highly preventative” for Covid-19 in children, the EMA’s Cavaleri said.

None of the 1,005 children who received the vaccine in a trial developed Covid-19, compared to 16 children out of the 978 who received a placebo injection.

“From a safety perspective, the vaccine was well tolerated and the side effects in this age group were very much similar to what we have seen in young adults and not raising major concerns at this point in time,” Cavaleri said.

The EMA confirmed it was looking into “very rare” cases of heart inflammation in people aged under 30 who had been given the Pfizer vaccine.

“Currently there is no indication that these cases are due to the vaccine and EMA is closely monitoring this issue,” it said in a statement.

US authorities have also reported a small number of reports of heart inflammation among some younger people who Pfizer and Moderna, which uses the same Messenger RNA technology.

The EMA said it was “working closely” with its US counterparts.

The approval of Pfizer for adolescents fires the starting gun for Germany to begin vaccinating children under 12, as Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Thursday.

But Merkel stressed that vaccination would not be compulsory and would have no bearing on whether children can attend school or go on holiday.

Moderna has said it expects to seek authorisation from EU and US authorities in early June, after trials showed it was “highly effective” in adolescents.

 

AFP