15:30 GMT23 April 2021
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    Last week, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen threatened to halt exports of coronavirus inoculations to the United Kingdom unless London starts shipping jabs to the bloc. The official said Brussels wants to see “reciprocity” in exports and is ready to use whatever tool to achieve it.

    Leaders of European Union member states will hold virtual talks on Thursday to discuss how to boost vaccine supplies. Reports say the European Commission president will ask them to support her plans for tougher export controls, which could affect deliveries of inoculations to Britain.

    "The EU has an excellent portfolio of different vaccines and we have secured more than enough doses for the entire population. But we have to ensure timely and sufficient vaccine deliveries to EU citizens. Every day counts,” said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen unveiling the plan for export controls.

    Row with Britain and the Proposed Measures

    The discussion was prompted by how slowly the immunisation programme in the bloc was progressing, because of delays in production and shipments of the vaccine developed by British-Swedish company AstraZeneca, which has production sites in Britain and the EU. Both the United Kingdom and Brussels bought the inoculation, but delays only affected the bloc. Tensions escalated after AstraZeneca refused to redirect shipments of jabs produced in the EU.

    Brussels accused the company of failing to honor its contract obligations, a claim, which AstraZeneca has denied. The firm said all questions and complaints should be referred to the UK government.

    After lengthy negotiations, London and Brussels revealed that they are working on ways to "create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all". An EU diplomat, who spoke with the BBC, said that despite positive statements, the actual progress was "slow" and "difficult".

    Previously the bloc introduced a law, which requires companies to seek the EU’s approval before shipping vaccines outside the EU and now Brussels wants to introduce more restrictive measures. The European Commission said the proposed tougher export controls will be based on "reciprocity" and "proportionality".

    Although it has not been suggested that the bloc may go so far as to ban deliveries of coronavirus inoculations to another country, it might review its exports if the country does not show reciprocity. The bloc will also assess whether the country of destination has the greater need, vaccination rate and access to vaccines.

    Taking into account these criteria, the United Kingdom is likely to be targeted by the European Union as it has better vaccine rollout, lower infection rates and - if one is to believe European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen - did not export coronavirus vaccines to the bloc in the past six weeks despite the fact that European Union delivered 10 million doses to Britain.

    On Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned against imposing "blockades", saying it would affect states' image.

    "I would just gently say to anybody considering a blockade, or interruption of supply chains, that companies may look at such actions and draw conclusions about whether or not it is sensible to make future investments in countries where arbitrary blockades are imposed," the Prime Minister said.

    Third Wave

    The development comes as the European Union braces itself for a third wave of the coronavirus, which the European Commission described as "alarming". According to Stella Kyriakidou, the bloc’s Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, 19 of the EU’s 27 members states have experienced a sharp rise in infections, which have led both to an increase in hospitalisations and the number of deaths.

    The so-called Kent strain of coronavirus, which was discovered in Britain, is gradually replacing the original strain, which was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December of 2019. The UK variant is said to be up to 75 percent more infectious and is deadlier.

    According to the the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), countries where the Kent strain has become dominant, saw excess mortality.

    Eastern nations, which were not affected during the first wave, are now among the worst hit in Europe in per-capita terms.

    AstraZeneca, Boris Johnson, European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, vaccine, United Kingdom, European Union
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