German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the European Union should prepare to vaccinate against new variants of the coronavirus over the next few years, after EU leaders discussed ways to tackle the new variants of the virus, to step up vaccinations and save the European tourism industry from another ruinous summer.
The 27 EU leaders agreed on Thursday to keep “strict restrictions” on public life and free movement in place as the bloc fights against the emergence of new variants that could hinder an economic rebound.
“We have to prepare for a situation where we have to continuously vaccinate for a longer period, maybe years, due to new variants of the coronavirus, similar to the situation we are experiencing from the flu,” Merkel said .
French President Emmanuel Macron said the EU “will have to live with this virus” in the long term.
Italy’s new prime minister, former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, has called on the EU to take a much stronger stance on pharmaceutical companies producing the vaccines after a stuttering start in vaccine deliveries.
The European Executive Commission told the virtual gathering of leaders that 51.5 million doses of vaccines have so far been delivered to the EU and 29.17 million administered, with around 5% of citizens having received their first dose.
The Commission and EU countries have come under fire for missteps in their joint vaccination program and a stuttering vaccine rollout that has lagged behind Israel, the UK and the US.
Summit chairman Charles Michel said the bloc wanted “more predictability and transparency” from pharmaceutical companies that failed to deliver the contracted vaccine volumes, jeopardizing the goal of the EU to inoculate 70% of its adult population by mid-end 2021.
Not far from where the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, chaired the video summit from Brussels, European lawmakers have roasted the heads of large pharmaceutical companies.
AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot has answered many questions from the European Parliament, especially after confirming that the company will deliver less than half of the vaccines it pledged to in the first quarter.
Reporting from Berlin, Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane reporting from Berlin said lawmakers appeared unhappy with Soriot’s responses.
“Several members of parliament repeatedly asked him hostile questions about how certain parts of the vaccine his company was producing could be produced in the EU and made available in the UK, but not the other way around,” he said. said Kane mentioned.
“His answers were not particularly candid, at least not to the satisfaction of Members of the European Parliament. This reinforces the element of questioning that there is currently, not only in Germany but in the EU, about the speed at which vaccines are administered. And also the question of whether this speed can be accelerated, can more people be vaccinated faster than what is happening now? “
After the pandemic killed more than 900,000 people in Europe and plunged it into the worst recession in its history, EU leaders agreed to advance work on vaccine certificates, which countries hope South will unlock tourism during the European summer.
But others, including France and Germany, are skeptical. Merkel said technical work on it should be completed by the summer.
As the EU crosses a fine line between restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of infections and keeping borders open to ensure the flow of goods and services through the single market, Merkel said she does not plan to ‘impose stricter border restrictions on the French Moselle region for now.
Although infection rates are declining in around 20 EU member states, there are concerns of further peaks as the variant of the coronavirus first detected in the UK is spreading rapidly.
Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the British variant was present in 26 of the 27 EU countries, the South African variant in 14 and the Brazilian variant in seven.
“There is growing fatigue from COVID among our citizens… But we must not let it go now. Not only does the situation remain serious in many parts of Europe, but we also need to watch out for new variants that are spreading, ”she said.