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How Denmark and Austria saw differing reactions to vaccine deal with Israel

Austria and Denmark’s leaders were in Jerusalem on Thursday to present an agreement with Israel for the development and production of future generation coronavirus vaccines. We look at the responses in Vienna and Copenhagen.

How Denmark and Austria saw differing reactions to vaccine deal with Israel
The Austrian and Danish government leaders with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their visit to Israel to complete a Covid-19 vaccine deal. Photo: Avigail Uzi/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

The three countries will launch “a research and development fund” and begin “joint efforts for common production of future vaccines”, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the Jerusalem news conference alongside his Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

Denmark and Austria are both EU members, and the Israeli partnership has been notable for being an apparent break with relying solely on the European Union for securing vaccines.

READ ALSO: Austria and Denmark chided by EU ally over Israel vaccine plan

Kurz, the Conservative Austrian chancellor, had announced the alliance on Monday, saying the European Medicines Agency (EMA) was “too slow in approving vaccines”, leaving the bloc vulnerable to supply bottlenecks at pharmaceutical companies.

Frederiksen, who leads Denmark’s Social Democratic minority government, has been less forthright in citing EU shortcomings as a motive for the deal, but did say that Denmark must “make sure that we have enough vaccines in a year’s time, and in two, three, five and ten years”.

Despite critiquing the bloc’s vaccination approval process, Kurz sought to quell concerns about the Israel trip, telling Austrian media on Friday that the project “was not directed against the EU”.

Kurz lavished praise on the Israeli leader, saying Austria was simply trying to take advantage of Israel’s experience in “defeating the virus”.

“The world admires you because of the vaccination successes. You were the first country to decide to defeat the virus,” he told Netanyahu.

“Together we must now prepare for how things will continue after the summer, after the current vaccination program.”

Kurz said other EU countries were welcome to join the framework, with Czech Prime Minster Andrej Babiš set to arrive in Israel soon.

Kurz’s efforts to speed up Austria’s lagging vaccination process have been largely praised, although he faced criticism for his comments on the EU.

EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton welcomed the alliance.

“I’m absolutely not afraid that this is directed against anyone – it’s just about improving global cooperation,” Breton told Politico.

European MP Peter Liese, from the centre-right European People’s Party of which Kurz is also a member, said Kurz had the chance last Autumn to play a key role in the EU’s vaccination approval – a process the Austrian chancellor has now criticised.

“I’m pretty upset with my EPP friend Kurz,” Liese told German magazine Welt.

“It is not fair to criticise the EU now. Austria took a leading role in the (development of the EU vaccine steering group)”.

Sonja Hammerschmid, from the centre-left Social Democrats, criticised Kurz’s “staging tour” as a PR exercise, saying much more money than the planned €50 million needed to be pledged if the programme was to make a difference.

“While in Austria the failures of professional crisis management are visible to everyone, the Chancellor flew abroad and went on a production tour” she said.

“If you don’t add at least a zero to it (the figure), you can’t take the sum seriously for a second in the area of ​​pharmaceutical production and clinical research.”

In Denmark, Frederiksen will have to fend off criticism from both the left and right for her decision to join the partnership, as well as for the visit to Israel itself.

Frederiksen’s government, ostensibly centre-left, is propped up by smaller left-wing parties but regularly works with the right wing to pass legislation, primarily on immigration. Much of the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in its early stages, has also received broad parliamentary backing.

The leader of the opposition, centre-right Liberal party, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, called the deal with Israel and Austria “inconcrete”.

Ellemann-Jensen also criticised Frederiksen for prioritising a trip to Israel over domestic talks related to the gradual lifting of Denmark’s Covid-19 restrictions and said the meeting with Kurz and Netanyahu could have taken place digitally.

“We have something urgent going on at home. The prime minister has chosen to turn her back to it. That’s something I have little understanding for,” he told the national broadcaster DR.

The sentiment was echoed by the centre-left Social Liberal party, whose foreign policy spokesperson Martin Lidegaard said he “couldn’t comprehend” the need to travel to Israel in person.

“She could have achieved the same things with a virtual meeting without getting herself mixed up in the Israeli election campaign, without sending a negative signal to the rest of Europe and without delaying negotiations about reopening Denmark,” Lidegaard said.

Another ally, the left-wing Red Green Alliance, said it was “deeply astonished” by “what the prime minister is running around and doing in Israel. This is not something she has agreed with parliamentary parties,” parliamentary group leader Peder Hvelplund said to DR.

A common criticism of Frederiksen’s government during the pandemic has been that it has sometimes failed to offer enough transparency over its decision-making process.

READ ALSO: Danish prime minister rejects criticism over first lockdown announcement

Hvelplund additionally called Israel a “controversial choice of partner”.

“This is a country which is not ensuring vaccination of parts of the population in the occupied areas which Israel has occupied in the West Bank and Gaza,” he argued.

“At the same time, an agreement was also made (by Israel) with Pfizer in which health data of the public is systematically delivered to Pfizer as a condition for being able to vaccinate,” he said.

For Frederiksen, the imagery of her proactively trying to boost Denmark’s vaccination programme — by teaming up with a country known for the rapidity of its own roll-out — may outweigh all of those criticisms.

She defended the trip during the Jerusalem press conference and called the deal “completely necessary” for Denmark.

As at Friday, March 5th, 6.5 percent of adults in Austria have received one vaccination dose – with 3.1 percent receiving both doses. In Denmark, those figures are 8.5 and 3.3 percent respectively.

Austria and Denmark on Friday both followed France and Germany in recommending the AstraZeneca vaccine for over 65s, reversing a previous decision not to approve the jab for seniors.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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