The EU Could Seek Billions in Penalties if AstraZeneca Doesn’t Deliver Vaccine Doses

Lawyers representing the European Union said on Wednesday that they would seek potentially billions of euros in penalties from AstraZeneca if the pharmaceutical company failed to deliver tens of millions of doses of its Covid-19 vaccine that it is contractually required to supply.

In the first hearing in a lawsuit that the bloc has brought against AstraZeneca, lawyers representing the European Union told the judges in a Brussels courtroom that the bloc was seeking to apply a penalty of €10 (about $12) per dose per day that it has been delayed.

The bloc is demanding 90 million doses from the company by the end of June. The proposed penalties, if accepted by the judge, would begin on July 1 and could quickly balloon into billions of euros.

The European Union paid a little over €2 per dose for the vaccine, which AstraZeneca sold at cost for the first stretch of the pandemic.

A European Commission spokesman on health issues said that the bloc was not demanding both the money and the doses, and that if the doses were delivered, the demand for the penalties would be dropped. The spokesman, Stefan De Keersmaecker, said that the lawsuit’s prime goal was to get AstraZeneca to deliver the doses.

The lawsuit, which has pitted the pharmaceutical company against one of its biggest clients globally, has inflicted reputational damage on both parties.

The company says that the delays were caused by production problems and do not constitute a breach of contract. But they have been blamed for the European Union’s slow vaccination start, as shortages meant that the inoculation rollout was delayed in many of its member countries.

The bloc has largely caught up in recent weeks and is on track to get at least one dose to 70 percent of its adult population by July. But the political and reputational impact of the sluggish start has been damaging.

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E.U. leaders are meeting now to consider new sanctions against Belarus.

The chorus of condemnation and outrage from across the European Union swelled on Monday as leaders began discussing possible penalties they could direct at Belarus for its forcing down of a civilian passenger jet.

The actions at their disposal are, however, somewhat limited, given that there are already E.U. sanctions against Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the brutal and erratic leader of Belarus who has clung to power despite huge protests against his government, and dozens of his immediate associates.

In a summit taking place Monday evening, European leaders were expected to discuss adding aviation-related sanctions.

The options may include designating Belarusian airspace unsafe for E.U. carriers, blocking flights from Belarus from landing in E.U. airports, and imposing sanctions against the national flag carrier, Belavia.

said that the government was responding to “unprecedented threats” from Belarus and that it would push for the European Union to impose further measures.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece, where the flight originated, said it was critical that the European Union take determined action, especially in light of the bloc’s frequent paralysis over foreign-affairs issues, including a recent failure to agree on a statement regarding the Middle East conflict.

“Our inability to reach a consensus on recent events in Israel and Gaza — where as a union we failed to present a unified stance — must not be repeated,” Mr. Mitsotakis told The Financial Times. “The forcible grounding of a commercial passenger aircraft in order to illegally detain a political opponent and journalist is utterly reprehensible and an unacceptable act of aggression that cannot be allowed to stand.”

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, promised action at the leaders’ summit.

“The outrageous and illegal behavior of the regime in Belarus will have consequences,” she said in a tweet Sunday evening, adding that there must be sanctions for those “responsible for the#Ryanair hijacking.”

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Flight paths over Belarus should be assessed, the transportation secretary says.

The transportation secretary said Monday that the safety of flights operated by U.S. airlines over Belarus should be reviewed after the Eastern European country forced a commercial flight to land in order to seize a dissident on board.

“That’s exactly what needs to be assessed right now,” the secretary, Pete Buttigieg, told CNN. “We, in terms of the international bodies we’re part of and as an administration with the F.A.A., are looking at that because the main reason my department exists is safety.”

The comments came after the authoritarian leader of Belarus dispatched a fighter jet on Sunday to intercept a Ryanair plane carrying the journalist Roman Protasevich. The plane was forced to land in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, where Mr. Protasevich was arrested.

The secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, condemned the forced diversion, saying it was a “shocking act” that “endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including U.S. citizens.” And Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, an Irish-based low-cost carrier, called the operation a “state -sponsored hijacking.”

called the re-routing to Minsk “utterly unacceptable,” adding that “any violation of international air transport rules must bear consequences.”

Though not a major European hub, Minsk is served by multiple international airlines, including Lufthansa, KLM, Turkish Airlines and Air France. Delta Air Lines and United Airlines offer flights to Minsk through their partnerships with those European airlines as well as through Belavia, the Belarusian national carrier.

Belarus sits between Poland and Russia and also has borders with Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia, putting it in the path of some flights to and from major European airports.

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Belarus Scrambles Ryanair Jet to Force Down Plane Carrying Dissident

MOSCOW — The strongman president of Belarus sent a fighter jet to intercept a European airliner traveling through the country’s airspace on Sunday and ordered the plane to land in the capital, Minsk, where a prominent opposition journalist aboard was then seized, provoking international outrage.

The stunning gambit by Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, a brutal and erratic leader who has clung to power despite huge protests against his government last year, drew disbelief among European leaders. But it also underscored that with the support of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Mr. Lukashenko is prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to repress dissent.

The Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, carrying some 170 passengers — among them the journalist, Roman Protasevich, 26 — was flying over Belarus when Belarusian air traffic controllers notified its pilots of “a potential security threat on board” and directed the plane to divert to Minsk, the Ireland-based airline said in a statement.

Mr. Lukashenko, often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator,” personally ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet to escort the Ryanair plane to the Minsk airport, his press service said. According to the statement, Mr. Lukashenko gave an “unequivocal order” to “make the plane do a U-turn and land.”

NEXTA Telegram channel, one of the most popular opposition outlets in Belarus, where most independent media organizations were forced to shut down following large-scale protests that convulsed the nation following a disputed presidential election in 2020.

Over the past few years, Mr. Protasevich has been living in Lithuania in exile, fearing imprisonment in Belarus, his home country, where he is accused of inciting hatred and mass disorder and faces more than 12 years in prison if convicted. In November, the country’s main security service, still called the K.G.B., put Mr. Protasevich on its list of terrorists.

Mr. Protasevich’s arrest demonstrated the lengths to which Mr. Lukashenko is ready to go in order to pursue his political opponents. Many of them have sought safe heaven in exile in Lithuania and Poland, but Sunday’s events showed that Mr. Lukashenko can reach them even in the air.

called it “abhorrent” in his Twitter account and demanded that the Belarusian authorities release Mr. Protasevich.

The Belarusian authorities said they took the action after receiving information about the bomb threat and did so even though Vilnius, the plane’s destination, was much closer than Minsk when it was forced down. Mr. Lukashenko and his government are known to use ruses to pursue their political opponents.

The country’s Defense Ministry said in another statement that the country’s air defense forces were put on high alert.

violence, Mr. Lukashenko managed to successfully crack down on protesters, with the country’s security apparatus remaining loyal to him.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Mr. Lukashenko’s main opponent during the last presidential election in August, which was widely regarded as rigged, called the episode with the Ryanair flight “an operation by the special services to hijack an aircraft in order to detain activist and blogger Roman Protasevich.”

“Not a single person who flies over Belarus can be sure of his safety,” she said.

Matina Stevis-Gridneff contributed reporting from Brussels, and Niki Kitsantonis from Athens.

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Covax to Receive 200 Million Johnson & Johnson Covid Doses

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Covax, the program to vaccinate the world’s poorest countries, will receive 200 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot coronavirus vaccine through an advance purchase agreement announced on Friday. The deal may eventually boost a vaccination campaign that has fallen significantly behind on its goals.

Gavi, the public-private health partnership co-leading Covax, will purchase the doses at a not-for-profit price from Johnson & Johnson. Gavi said that the goal is to supply the 200 million doses this year.

But it was not clear how quickly those doses will start being delivered or whether they can help turn around the struggling Covax program. Jake Sargent, a spokesman for Johnson & Johnson, said the company is “striving to deliver vaccine doses as quickly as possible.”

Only 71 million doses have been shipped out so far through the Covax program, the vast majority of which have been of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine. In March, the World Health Organization, another co-leader of Covax, had said 237 million doses would be allocated to participating countries by the end of May.

the growing gap in vaccination coverage between the world’s rich and poor. Only 0.3 percent of the vaccine doses administered globally have been given in the 29 poorest countries, home to about 9 percent of the world’s population.

Covax has been underfunded and behind schedule even before it faced its most significant blow last month: India, facing a devastating coronavirus crisis, halted vaccine exports out of the country, meaning that Covax could no longer receive doses from its major supplier, the Serum Institute of India. The Serum Institute signaled this week that it would not be able to provide vaccines beyond India before the end of this year.

The massive shortfall in supply has left low-income countries increasingly dependent on donations from wealthy countries. President Biden has pledged to donate 80 million doses of vaccines, most from AstraZeneca, and some of which are expected to be given through Covax. The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Friday that the bloc aims to donate 100 million vaccine doses to low- and middle-income countries this year.

Other vaccine makers have also said they would step up supply to low-income countries as they fight a push, supported by the Biden administration, to increase vaccine supply by waiving intellectual property protections on Covid vaccines. Albert Bourla, chief executive of Pfizer, said on Friday that the company expects to deliver two billion doses of its vaccine to developing countries in the next 18 months. That projection reflects existing deals with governments, anticipated future agreements and Pfizer’s pledge to supply 40 million doses to Covax.

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E.U. Lawmaker Block Investment Pact With China

The European Parliament halted progress Thursday on a landmark commercial agreement with China, citing the “totalitarian threat” from Beijing because of its record on human rights and its sanctions against Europeans who have been critical of the Chinese government.

By an overwhelming majority, members of Parliament passed a resolution refusing to ratify the so-called Comprehensive Agreement on Investment until China lifts sanctions on prominent European critics of Beijing. The members of Parliament also warned that they could refuse to endorse the agreement because of China’s treatment of Muslim minorities and its suppression of democracy in Hong Kong.

“The human rights situation in China is at its worst since the Tiananmen Square massacre,” the resolution said, accusing China of detaining more than one million people, mostly Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, a charge the Chinese government has denied.

The sanctions against members of the European Parliament who have been critical of Beijing, as well as several scholars and research organizations, “constitute an attack against the European Union and its Parliament as a whole, the heart of European democracy and values, as well as an attack against freedom of research,” the resolution said.

sanctions against four Communist Party officials after accusing them of being responsible for human rights violations.

China retaliated with sanctions against members of the European Parliament, including Reinhard Bütikofer, a member of the Greens faction from Germany and prominent critic of Beijing. They are not allowed to travel to China or do business with people in China.

The investment agreement was already in trouble. Valdis Dombrovskis, the European commissioner for trade, said earlier in May that work to finalize the pact was delayed because of repressive Chinese policies. The European Commission, the European Union’s administrative arm, also took steps this month to clamp down on Chinese companies that receive subsidies from the government, giving them an unfair competitive edge.

The resolution passed Thursday by a vote of 599 in favor and 30 against, with 58 abstentions. The no votes came from a handful of far-right or far-left members of Parliament.

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Mongolia has plenty of vaccines as countries scramble for doses.

At a time when most countries are scrambling for coronavirus vaccines, Mongolia already has enough to fully vaccinate more than half its citizens, in large part thanks to deals with both China and Russia.

Officials are so confident about the nation’s vaccine riches that they are promising citizens a “Covid-free summer.”

Mongolia’s success in procuring so many doses within months is a big victory for a low-income, developing nation. Many poor countries have been waiting in line for shots, hoping for the best. But Mongolia, using its status as a small geopolitical player between Russia and China, was able to snap up doses at a clip similar to that of much wealthier countries.

Mongolia has a population not much bigger than Chicago’s. The small democratic nation is used to living in the shadows of Russia and China, which often treat it as a geopolitical pawn.

during a pandemic, being a small nation sandwiched between two vaccine makers with global ambitions can have advantages.

“It speaks to the Mongolian ability to play to the two great powers and maximize their benefits even while they are on this tightrope between these two countries,” said Theresa Fallon, director of the Center for Russia Europe Asia Studies in Brussels.

It is also a win for China and Russia, which have extensive resource interests in Mongolia and ambitions to appear to play a role in ending the pandemic, even when much of the world has expressed deep skepticism over their homegrown vaccines.

has extended the period of time the Pfizer-BionNTech vaccine can be refrigerated. The agency now says undiluted and thawed vaccines can be stored for up to 30 days, rather than up to five, as before. The European Medicines Agency announced a similar recommendation earlier in the week.

  • Prince William, the second in line to the throne of Britain, said on Thursday that he had received his first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. He shared a photo on social media of the injection at the Science Museum in London on Tuesday, thanking everyone involved in the country’s vaccination program. The prince is 38, part of an age group that became eligible to book inoculations last week. Queen Elizabeth II, his grandmother, was vaccinated in January and his father, Prince Charles, received a first dose in February.

  • The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, signed a contract for an additional 1.8 billion doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine to be delivered between December 2021 and 2023, the commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, announced Thursday. The deal will allow member countries to buy 900 million doses, including booster shots to prolong immunity, as well as possible new vaccines targeting emerging variants of the coronavirus, with an option to purchase additional 900 million in coming years.

  • Anna Schaverien, Monika Pronczuk and Kaly Soto contributed reporting.

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    Vaccinated Travelers From ‘Safe Countries’ Will Be Allowed to Visit, European Union Says

    BRUSSELS — The European Union agreed on Wednesday to reopen its borders to visitors who have been fully vaccinated with an approved shot and to those coming from a list of countries considered safe from a coronavirus perspective, permitting broader travel just in time for the summer tourism season.

    Ambassadors from the 27 member states of the European Union endorsed a plan that would allow visits from tourists and other nonessential travelers, who have been mostly barred from entering the bloc for more than a year.

    The move has been seen as an economic imperative for tourism-dependent countries such as Greece and Spain, and it has been months in the works. Other E.U. nations that are less reliant on tourists for jobs and income, particularly in northern Europe, had been eager to maintain higher barriers for nonessential visitors to keep the coronavirus at bay. But they relented as vaccinations advanced and after they were promised the ability to reverse course if cases surge again.

    The new rules are set to become formal policy next week after clearing some bureaucratic hurdles, and, depending on how well each country has prepared to welcome tourists, could be implemented immediately. Some countries, like Greece, have already said that they will remove testing and quarantine requirements for vaccinated visitors. But most countries are likely to implement such changes more slowly and conservatively.

    in an interview with The New York Times in April. The formalization of freer international travel for vaccinated people will deepen the divide between the majority of countries that still have extremely limited access to the lifesaving shots and the few richer nations that do. That is likely to sharpen the debate about how to improve equitable access to vaccines around the world.

    Under the E.U. plan, the bloc would accept visitors who have completed their immunization at least two weeks before their arrival, using one of the shots approved by its own regulator or by the World Health Organization. That covers the vaccines from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Sinopharm, according to a draft of the rules seen by The New York Times. That would open the door to immunized Americans, who have been receiving shots from Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer.

    according to data reported by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

    And individual E.U. states would retain the freedom to tweak the measures if they wanted to take a more conservative approach, meaning that some countries could retain demands for negative PCR tests or quarantines for certain visitors.

    The draft document of the rules indicated that children would not be required to be vaccinated when traveling with vaccinated parents but that they might be asked to show a negative PCR test conducted no more than 72 hours before arrival.

    The bloc would also maintain an emergency brake option, a legal tool that would allow it to quickly snap back to more restrictive travel conditions if a threatening variant or other Covid emergency emerged.

    A key question about the practical application of the rules is how the vaccination status of a visitor would be determined.

    Those issued so far are vulnerable to fraud.

    Europeans will be furnished with digital certificates that will be readable across the bloc sometime in June. The European Union ultimately wants to bridge its own certificates with those issued by the national authorities in partner countries such as the United States, but that goal could be far off.

    For visitors from outside the European Union, the draft document of the rules says, “Member states should be able to accept third country certificates containing at least the minimum data set based on national law, taking into account the ability to verify the authenticity, validity and integrity of the certificate and whether it contains all relevant data.”

    That, too, would give border authorities in each E.U. country leeway to accept or reject a vaccination certificate based on whether it looks authentic and contains the information needed.

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    Vaccinated Travelers Will Be Allowed to Visit, E.U. Says

    BRUSSELS — The European Union agreed on Wednesday to reopen its borders to visitors who have been fully vaccinated with an approved shot and to those coming from a list of countries considered safe from a coronavirus perspective, permitting broader travel just in time for the summer tourism season.

    Ambassadors from the 27 member states of the European Union endorsed a plan that would allow visits from tourists and other nonessential travelers, who have been mostly barred from entering the bloc for more than a year.

    The move has been seen as an economic imperative for tourism-dependent countries such as Greece and Spain, and it has been months in the works. Other E.U. nations that are less reliant on tourists for jobs and income, particularly in northern Europe, had been eager to maintain higher barriers for nonessential visitors to keep the coronavirus at bay. But they relented as vaccinations advanced and after they were promised the ability to reverse course if cases surge again.

    The new rules are set to become formal policy next week after clearing some bureaucratic hurdles, and, depending on how well each country has prepared to welcome tourists, could be implemented immediately. Some countries, like Greece, have already said that they will remove testing and quarantine requirements for vaccinated visitors. But most countries are likely to implement such changes more slowly and conservatively.

    in an interview with The New York Times in April. The formalization of freer international travel for vaccinated people will deepen the divide between the majority of countries that still have extremely limited access to the lifesaving shots and the few richer nations that do. That is likely to sharpen the debate about how to improve equitable access to vaccines around the world.

    Under the E.U. plan, the bloc would accept visitors who have completed their immunization at least two weeks before their arrival, using one of the shots approved by its own regulator or by the World Health Organization. That covers the vaccines from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Sinopharm, according to a draft of the rules seen by The New York Times. That would open the door to immunized Americans, who have been receiving shots from Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer.

    according to data reported by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

    And individual E.U. states would retain the freedom to tweak the measures if they wanted to take a more conservative approach, meaning that some countries could retain demands for negative PCR tests or quarantines for certain visitors.

    The draft document of the rules indicated that children would not be required to be vaccinated when traveling with vaccinated parents but that they might be asked to show a negative PCR test conducted no more than 72 hours before arrival.

    The bloc would also maintain an emergency brake option, a legal tool that would allow it to quickly snap back to more restrictive travel conditions if a threatening variant or other Covid emergency emerged.

    A key question about the practical application of the rules is how the vaccination status of a visitor would be determined.

    Those issued so far are vulnerable to fraud.

    Europeans will be furnished with digital certificates that will be readable across the bloc sometime in June. The European Union ultimately wants to bridge its own certificates with those issued by the national authorities in partner countries such as the United States, but that goal could be far off.

    For visitors from outside the European Union, the draft document of the rules says, “Member states should be able to accept third country certificates containing at least the minimum data set based on national law, taking into account the ability to verify the authenticity, validity and integrity of the certificate and whether it contains all relevant data.”

    That, too, would give border authorities in each E.U. country leeway to accept or reject a vaccination certificate based on whether it looks authentic and contains the information needed.

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