EU ready for China vaccine bailout as bloc humiliated by AstraZeneca spat

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The EU finds itself in a huge spat with UK-Swedish vaccine maker AstraZeneca after the company experienced production problems at its plants in the Netherlands and Belgium. The company is producing the jab at its UK plants too and there have been no problems with its contract with the Government. Fair distribution of Covid-19 vaccines was raised at the World Economic Forum when European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen highlighted the huge investment made by the EU into them.

During the same virtual Davos meeting, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping echoed the concerns of his international peers.

He said it is now “important to scale up cooperation on the production and distribution of vaccines,” adding that “China will continue to share its experience with other countries, do its best to assist countries less prepared for the pandemic, and work for greater accessibility and affordability of Covid vaccines”.

Following the comments, Tao Lina, a Shanghai-based medical expert on vaccines, suggested the EU had been betting on help from the US and UK pharmaceuticals for assistance, but now realise their plans lag behind other leading nations.

He told the Global Times: “Europe is in short supply of Covid-19 vaccines, making cooperation with China entirely possible.

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“China has never refused to provide vaccines to any country. For instance, Hungary has already purchased Chinese vaccines.”

The two Chinese vaccines have joined the COVAX plan, making it possible for Beijing to expand more cooperation with European countries.

Thanks to China, and the delivery of one million doses of its Sinopharm vaccine, Serbia has the second-fastest Covid-19 vaccine rollout in Europe and Hungary became the first in the EU to approve Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine last week.

And while Chair of the Defence Select Committee Tobias Ellwood tells that “the EU has quite a vigorous testing regime” he added that “individual nations can go at it alone”.

According to chief researcher at the Sinosteel Economic Research Institute, Hu Qimu, China expects more European countries to “follow Serbia” and use the vaccine too.

Mr Hu added: “Choosing Chinese vaccines with sufficient production capacity and timely, stable supply can better solve the current problem.”

Former British Army officer and Government defence adviser Nicholas Drummond has said the “EU can do what it wants,” but warned European countries over cosying up to Beijing.

He told “It strikes me as strange that anyone would turn to China for help when it delayed telling us about the virus, when it has been far from transparent about its own experience and the origins of the disease, and when it is likely to profit from a situation it created.

“However, if China is offering to provide a vaccine by way of recompense then that would be a very suitable response – maybe we should take them up on their offer.

“On a side note, it is very interesting to see how the pandemic is a test of the European project.

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“Does the EU have any real power to get things done? Or does it have to resort to bullying tactics that are all but undemocratic?

“The situation definitely reveals cracks. With any lesser person than Ursula von der Leyen leading the bloc, Europe could have unravelled badly. If Jean-Claude Juncker was still in charge, the acrimony would have been bitter.”

At the start of the pandemic, Italy turned to China for assistance after EU export restrictions on healthcare supplies caused chaos.

After planes full of medical supplies were sent from the CCP and private entities like Alibaba, Italian ambassador to the EU Maurizio Massari deplored that “only China responded” to his country’s pleas for help.

And Mr Drummond says we need to be wary of countries like China taking advantage of the pandemic.

He added: “We need to set UK-EU relations back on an even keel – the more we treat each other as competitors, the more adversarial the relationship will become.

“This could impact how other non-EU nations regard the EU and how they trade with them.

“We would go anywhere but to China or Russia.

“China has really behaved very badly. Russia is unreliable and has enough problems of its own. After imposing sanctions on Russia, why would it help us? On the contrary, it is trying to do everything possible to undermine and destabilise us.

“China delayed telling the rest of the world about the virus until it had spread globally. It is now clear that Covid-19 was widespread in Europe as early as October 2019.”

Despite this, Mr Drummond said there were some positive signs from the CCP.

He added: “China does deserve credit for sequencing the genetic code quickly and sharing it with us so we could develop a vaccine.

“In any event, the UK was very late in its initial response to the pandemic.

“We didn’t take it seriously enough, soon enough. We should have shut our airports in February and instituted a draconian testing regime before allowing anyone to enter the country.

“Such measures might have been difficult politically and pragmatically to enforce back then but could have contained it.

“A year later, and after 100,000 deaths, we are wiser. Our response was also delayed by not being able to test quickly enough. We couldn’t get test kits.

“Most were bought-up by the countries that made them – just as the UK has purchased most of AstraZeneca’s vaccine supply.”

Mr Drummond suggested that any failings from the pandemic highlighted a lack of planning which needs to be rectified for the future.

He continued: “Not being able to test denied us the fact-base we needed to understand how the virus was spreading.

“In future, the need to be able to test and develop vaccines has become an area of vital national security and resilience.

“We will now invest in being able to do this independently.

“Then you don’t do this yourself, you make yourself dependent on potential adversaries – like China – but also dependent on your allies, like Europe.

“And when it came to getting test kits that we didn’t make domestically, we had to join the back of the queue, which further delayed our response.”

The furious vaccine row broke out after AstraZeneca told Brussels it would only be able to deliver about a quarter of the doses it had ordered.

The bloc demanded jabs set to be delivered to the UK be redirected and sent to the continent.

The EU has threatened to block the export of Pfizer vaccines, which are made in Belgium, to the UK following AstraZeneca’s announcement.

A Downing Street official declined to rule out the possibility of UK vaccines being sent to the EU before every adult in Britain had been offered a jab.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman also refused to rule out UK supplies being sent to the continent as early as the middle of next month.

When pressed on whether jabs could be redirected he would only commit to ensuring the top four priority groups for vaccination have been given a jab by February 15.

He said: “Our priority is to vaccinate those who are the most vulnerable to the virus. That has always been our priority, it will continue to be our priority, and we will ensure we do that by the middle of February.”

Asked if it was possible jabs earmarked for Britons could be sent to Brussels before all 100 million doses ordered by the UK had been delivered, the official said the Government would meet all of its vaccine targets.

He said: “We remain confident of our supplies, AstraZeneca has said they will provide two million doses a week and we remain confident of that.

“We remain confident in our ability to vaccinate all the groups in the timeframes we have set out. That’s the most vulnerable by mid-February, phase one by the spring, and all adults by September.”

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