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ISRAEL

Israel, Denmark, Austria agree deal for vaccine development

Leaders from Israel, Austria and Denmark announced Thursday in Jerusalem an alliance for the development and production of future generation coronavirus vaccines, a deal that has already sparked criticism in Europe.

Israel, Denmark, Austria agree deal for vaccine development
Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/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 a news conference alongside his Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

“We don’t know how long… (current coronavirus) vaccines will hold up,” Netanyahu added.

“Is it half a year, is it a year, is it two years, is it more, is it less? We don’t know. Therefore we have to protect our people against the reemergence of this pandemic, or mutations.”

He did not specify the fund amount or the production capacity goal.

Frederiksen said the three countries “all have promising research that could pave the way for a next generation platform”, adding they “would like also to explore possible cooperation on clinical trials”.

Denmark and Austria are European Union members, and the Israeli partnership has elicited criticism from fellow EU state France, which said the European framework remained the best way to guarantee “solidarity” within the bloc.

Kurz 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.

But France defended the agency and insisted that “the most effective solution for meeting our vaccination needs must remain within a European framework”.

“This is what guarantees the solidarity among member states that is more essential than ever,” it said late Wednesday.

But Kurz on Thursday said: “We need to cooperate on this issue within the European Union… but we also need to cooperate worldwide.”

He added that “Israel is the first country in the world to show that it is possible to defeat the virus”.

Israel, among the world leaders in Covid-19 vaccinations per capita, launched a massive inoculation drive in December, backed by a deal with US pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer, which mounted an airlift of its vaccine developed with German firm BioNTech in exchange for data on its effects.

The Jewish state has so far administered at least one of two recommended doses to more than half its nine million-strong population, and led a series of large-scale trials that have so far confirmed the efficacy of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The rapid rollout has allowed for shops to re-open and activities in public spaces to resume, some of which, such as sports centres, are reserved for people with a “green badge” indicating they’ve had two doses.

Netanyahu, who took his Danish and Austrian guests on a tour of a gym on Thursday, and has opened the door for other countries to also join the alliance. 

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has acknowledged “significant” shortcomings in the EU’s vaccination policies, while criticising what he called “attempts at secession”.

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

Austria’s neighbours the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia have already bypassed the EMA to approve Russian and Chinese coronavirus vaccines.

The EU has seen a sharp shortfall in the first three months of this year of deliveries it had been counting on to kickstart its vaccine roll-out, with Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca facing fierce criticism from the European Commission for supplying just a fraction of the vaccine doses it had promised to deliver to the bloc.

The European Commission, however, refrained from censuring the Israel-Austria-Denmark alliance.

“We welcome the fact that member states are looking at all possible options to improve the common European response to the to the virus,” said commission spokesman Eric Mamer. 

“For us, there is no contradiction,” he added. 

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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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