House of Commons
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Vaccine tensions within Europe
Written by Ralitsa Bobcheva, associate
Edited by Adam Shaw, associate partner
26 March 2021
The UK-EU vaccine row has captured much of the attention in recent days. However, disputes over vaccine supplies have gradually developed across continental Europe.
Back in June, all EU member states joined up a scheme which granted the bloc chief responsibility for purchasing Covid-19 vaccines. Under the scheme, members should not make deals with vaccine manufacturers which have already signed an agreement with the EU – terms which did not prevent the German government from striking a side-deal with Pfizer for thirty million extra doses in September.
At a virtual EU summit yesterday, amid rising tensions over how to distribute doses among member states, several Eastern European countries led by Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurz complained of uneven allocation of jabs and started a campaign for a revision of the bloc’s distribution method.
Elsewhere, in Slovakia, the government has been left in turmoil after the prime minister, Igor Matovic, used an emergency approval process to buy the Russian vaccine Sputnik V without his coalition’s agreement.
Serbia is so far emerging as the only winner in the immunisation efforts across continental Europe. Recent weeks have seen the Serbian government donate thousands of jabs to neighbouring countries, including Montenegro, Bosnia and North Macedonia, leveraging the country’s vaccine supplies for soft power in the Western Balkans.
A few days ago, Albania followed suit by gifting Kosovo – the only country in the region that had not started its immunisations process at all – 500 vaccines for its health workers and pledged more in due course.
At least for now, shortages of vaccine supplies are leaving a number of Eastern European countries to rely on the good will of better-supplied neighbours.
Addressing the vaccine row between the UK and the EU yesterday, former European commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker cautioned that “this [vaccine war] could create major reputation damage to the European Union”. Looking at the growing tensions between member states, I would argue the same imminent threat lies within the union too.
Boris Johnson has suggested that it may only be possible to introduce a vaccine passport scheme once all adults have been offered a jab. The prime minister added that no decisions had been made yet but there would be an update on the idea in April and a review later in June. In the meantime, MPs have voted to extend emergency coronavirus powers in England until September.
At yesterday’s EU summit, European leaders backed “global value chains” rather than support the commission’s request for new powers to block exports to countries with high vaccination rates. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said that while the EU had to “provide [for] our own population” the bloc would not damage the supply chains necessary for the production and distribution of vaccines.
China has banned nine UK citizens – including five MPs – from entering China for spreading what it called “lies and disinformation” about the country. The move comes after similar measures were taken by the UK government on Monday over human rights abuses against the Uighur Muslim minority group.
Business and economy
The Treasury has come under criticism for saying it will legislate to “rule-out” Covid-related business rates appeals. Retail, hospitality and leisure businesses have benefitted from a rates holiday since the start of the crisis. However, many supply chain firms and commercial property owners have been ineligible for this support and government data shows that there were three three-fold increase in the number of appeals this year. Instead of ruling out Covid-19 related appeals, the government will provide a new £1.5bn pot of funding to help companies struggling with business rates.
More than 25% of small to medium-sized businesses have tapped into government-backed emergency loans schemes which were launched by the Treasury a year ago, according to data released in the final week of the programme. About 1.6m companies have taken a government-backed pandemic loan, with more than £2bn borrowed in the past month alone. (£)
Larger firms could be asked to disclose any pay gap between white employees and their minority ethnic colleagues under reforms supported by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. The advisory group, set up by Boris Johnson last summer, has been examining disparities in the employment market and is expected to report its findings to Downing Street within days.
Columns of note
In 2018, big pharma was the worst-rated healthcare sector globally and least-trusted industry in the US, according to analytics firm Gallup. Fast forward to 2021 and the pandemic has placed pharma at the centre of innovation and public trust once again. Whether the industry can cement its newfound reputation will rely on several key factors, Poppy Wood argues in City A.M.
Writing in The Guardian, professor of clinical psychiatry Richard A Friedman recalls one occasion from last autumn when he left his house for the first time in a while to buy an air conditioner. Spending an inordinate amount of time in the store talking about the mechanics of air conditioners left him nearly ecstatic. Why the excitement? As it turns out, being deprived of novelty does not only cause boredom but is also bad for our brains and overall wellbeing.
What happened yesterday?
London stocks closed in negative territory yesterday, with the FTSE 100 ending the session down 0.57% at 6,674.83, and the FTSE 250 losing 0.58% to finish at 21,277.84. Sterling was in a better position, gaining 0.37% on the dollar to $1.3736, and strengthening 0.71% against the euro to trade at €1.1668.
In the US, the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 0.62%, to 32,619.48, the S&P 500 gained 0.52%, to 3,909.52 and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.12%, to 12,977.68.
In company news:
Aviva has agreed to sell its Polish arm to Allianz for €2.5bn and has announced that it will now focus on its business in the UK, Ireland and Canada.
What’s happening today?
Datang Intl H
UK economic announcements
(07:00) Retail Sales
Int. economic announcements
(13:30) Personal Spending (US)
(13:30) Personal Income (US)
(13:30) Personal Consumption Expenditure (US)
(14:00) U. of Michigan Confidence (US)
Taiwan has urged its citizens to stop officially changing their names to “salmon”, after a chain of sushi restaurants offered free food to anyone who had the name “salmon” on their ID.
House of Commons
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House of Lords
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The Scottish parliament is now in recess for the election campaign.
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