AstraZeneca row erupts as EU’s Sefcovic blames vaccine giant for Europe’s Covid hell

Covid: EU's Sefcovic in furious row about AstraZeneca

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Vaccination rates are much lower in many nations than in the UK, and Dr Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), said people are resisting the rollout in some countries partly due to a lack of confidence in their governments. But EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic appeared to blame the slow delivery of jabs by Anglo-Swedish producer AstraZeneca at the beginning of the year for the slow uptake of vaccines.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Sefcovic said: “First and foremost there was a huge discussion at the beginning of this year about when the vaccines would arrive to EU member states.

“And once we had the adequate supplies of the vaccines we had a bit of easing of infections, the summer was full of hope and the people thought that this virus would gradually go away.

“Unfortunately that was not the case. Winter is coming and the infections are spiking again.

“Therefore now we really need all hands on deck, including increasing as quickly as possible vaccination rates and to offer all the help, financial, professional, to the first line responders who are the doctors, nurses and other medical professionals in our hospitals everywhere in the European Union.”

Also speaking to Mr Marr, Dr Andrea Ammon said that while policies like mandatory vaccination have been introduced to tackle this in some places, introducing stronger measures could work as a “double-edged sword” by provoking further resistance.

This effect has been seen already in several countries over the weekend, from violence in Vienna over mandatory vaccines to riots in Rotterdam against a fresh looming lockdown.

In the Netherlands, Rotterdam’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, condemned “an orgy of violence” at Friday’s demonstrations where seven people were hurt and more than 20 were arrested.

Hundreds of rioters filled the capital to protest against a fresh three-week partial lockdown, plans to introduce a Covid vaccine pass and a ban on New Year’s Eve fireworks.

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Protesters launched rocks and fireworks at officers and torched police cars, while Dutch police retaliated by shooting and wounding at least two people.

The following night, thousands gathered peacefully on Amsterdam’s central Dam Square despite organisers calling off the protest, while hundreds also marched through the southern city of Breda.

After daily deaths tripled in recent weeks, Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced a fresh lockdown akin to Britain’s spring 2020 ‘stay at home’ measures, which could last up to 20 days from Monday.

The government has also said coronavirus jabs will be made mandatory from February 1, as only 66 percent of the population have been vaccinated so far.

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Around 35,000 demonstrators, many from far-right groups, marched through Vienna on Saturday bearing fire-lit torches and “my body, my choice” banners to express their anger, while others burned face coverings.

Around 1,300 police were on duty as protesters launched fireworks and bottles at officers who retaliated with pepper spray to disperse the crowds.

Police said several protesters were detained, but did not give exact numbers.

Coronavirus cases have also rocketed in Switzerland, where around 65 percent of the population are now fully vaccinated, according to the country’s Federal Office for Public Health.

The nation is also holding a vote on November 28 over the use of the Swiss Covid certificate, which could be made mandatory for entry to certain public places based on vaccination status or proof of a negative coronavirus test.

On Saturday, thousands flooded the streets of Zurich and Lausanne to protest against policies including the certificate.

Previous protests in the Swiss capital, Bern, have turned violent, but police said the weekend’s demonstrations were peaceful.

Anti-vaccine sentiment is perhaps the strongest in Croatia, where only around 48.4 percent of the public have received a coronavirus jab, and infections have risen steeply in recent weeks.

Although the country is not in lockdown, masks are mandatory in all indoor public spaces, and in outdoor places where the 1.5-metre social distancing guidelines cannot be followed.

Cafes, clubs and restaurants are also subject to curfews and capacity rules, and indoor gatherings of more than 50 people are only open to those with the EU digital Covid certificate.

On Saturday, thousands of people gathered in the capital Zagreb carrying Croatian flags, nationalist and religious symbols, along with banners against vaccination and what they describe as restrictions of people’s freedoms.

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