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Risk of virus rebound, vaccinations trail

Risk of virus rebound, vaccinations trail

by Yannick LAMBERT 4 min. 31.01.2021 From our online archive
Luxembourg has one of lowest vaccination rates in the EU
A dose of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine in the US Photo: AFP
A dose of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine in the US Photo: AFP

Luxembourg will provide more details of its plans to speed up its vaccination campaign - one of the slowest in the European Union - as researchers warned of the potential of a rebound of the coronavirus.

Health Minister Paulette Lenert will answer questions from the press on Monday morning as the country heads into another month of Covid-19 restrictions as the disease stubbornly resists dropping further despite a curfew and the closure of restaurants and bars.

Luxembourg is not alone in hitting stumbling blocks after two nurses became the first to receive the shot in December. The EU has also run into procurement and logistics problems, and the bloc is far behind the UK and the US in protecting residents against the deadly disease. 

A research group advising the government warned last week that the more transmissible Covid-19 virus variant first discovered in the UK is increasing the risks of a rebound in Luxembourg.

Whilst the number of active cases has stabilised at around 2,000, the virus's reproduction has slightly inched up and is now indicating that it is is spreading in society again, with a hundred people passing it on to 107 on average, the government's Covid-19 task force said last week.

Luxembourg has so far given 9,890 a first dose and 1,483 the required second shot, data including 28 January show, resulting in one of the slowest rates in the EU, ahead only of the Netherlands, Latvia and Bulgaria. Part of the problem is a low turnout at the main vaccination centre.

The EU has been plagued by procurement issues from the companies whose medicine has so far been approved, including a row with Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, lower than expected BioNTech/Pfizer deliveries, and logistical mishaps across countries.

By the end of March, the government hopes to have inoculated around 42,000 people, less then a tenth of the country's population, although that number does not include the new AstraZeneca vaccine, which the European Medicines Agency only approved on 29 January.

The UK is ahead of the European Union on vaccinations, having handed out more doses than France, Germany, Italy and Spain combined so far at 16% of the population, according to latest national data. Serbia is also ahead of all EU countries, though it also uses Chinese and Russian vaccines that Brussels does not yet deem safe.

In Europe, Malta and Denmark are the two countries with the most administered doses per capita. Romania is also rapidly ramping up its vaccination rollout with the help of the military.

Scientists say that around 70% of a given population need to be vaccinated for the virus to largely disappear.

Diplomatic spat

In a rare bout of good news, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday that AstraZeneca will deliver 9 million additional doses in the first quarter compared to an offer last week, and would start deliveries one week earlier than scheduled.

There are ongoing uncertainties around the AstraZeneca deliveries with the EU publishing a redacted contract with the pharmaceutical company on Friday after production delays during a battle of words with the company and the UK government.

The EU took the unusual step of publishing a redacted procurement contract with AstraZeneca on Friday with the company, which the bloc said was not living up to its promises.

People on Twitter said some hidden parts of the contract were easy to read despite the redactions by using a specific function in the software displaying it.

Von der Leyen, who is German, also caused a diplomatic spat on Friday  by  initially blocking vaccine exports to several countries, including Northern Ireland, as part of an export restrictions regiment, reportedly without informing the Irish government, resulting in global outrage.

This could have constituted a breach of the UK-EU Brexit withdrawal agreement that was signed in January last year after close to three years of negotiations to settle the UK's exit from the European bloc.

The Commission quickly backtracked after a barrage of media criticism and talks with the UK government, reassuring the latter it would not block the export of BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine from a plant in Belgium.

The Commission talked to pharmaceutical companies on Sunday on how to ramp up production and get more of the coveted jabs to the continent.

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