The European Commission has proposed tougher controls on Covid vaccine exports after it accused UK-Swedish firm AstraZeneca of failing to honour its contract to supply EU countries.
The plans, to go before EU leaders on Thursday, stop short of a ban but could inflame tensions with the UK.
Any shipment would be assessed on the destination country’s rate of vaccinations and vaccine exports.
Meanwhile, 29 million AZ doses have been inspected in a raid in Italy.
Italy confirms police ‘inspection’
The Italian government said the health squad of the military police had gone to “verify” batches at a plant in Anagni, near Rome, last weekend after a request by the European Commission.
The plant has a contract with AstraZeneca to fill the vials with vaccine and label them, and will do the same for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is also approved for use in the EU.
Reports have it that the UK was a possible destination for some of the doses but a UK government official said it was not expecting such a delivery.
The Italian government said “the batches that were inspected were all aimed for Belgium”. AstraZeneca said 16 million of the doses were “waiting for quality control release to be dispatched to Europe” while the other 13 million were to go to countries in the Covax vaccine-sharing scheme.
The raid comes weeks after the Italian government blocked the export of 250,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia, as part of new EU regulations allowing a shipment to be stopped if a company fails to meet its obligations to the 27 member states.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that AstraZeneca’s failure to deliver on its vaccine commitments was “totally unacceptable”.
The latest EU proposals are aimed at securing vaccine supplies. When asked whether the aim was to punish the UK in particular, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “We’re dealing with a pandemic and this is not seeking to punish any countries.”
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