Wednesday

27th Jan 2021

EU rolls out vaccine, as UK-variant spreads

  • Over 400,000 Covid-related deaths have so-far been reported in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and UK (Photo: Leaf)

Vaccines are being rolled out throughout the European Union, as a new variant of Covid-19 from the UK begins to spread.

The official EU launch date of the vaccine produced by Pfizer-BioNTech kicked off on Sunday (27 December), as part of a wider effort to inoculate more than 450 million people.

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On Twitter, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the vaccine, which needs to be stored in very cold temperatures, had been delivered to all EU countries.

"First we protect the more vulnerable. Soon we'll have enough doses for all of us," she said.

In the Czech Republic, the first person to get vaccinated was prime minister Andrej Babiš, followed by a 95-year old World War Two veteran.

Elsewhere, the first people to get the dose were primarily the elderly and healthcare workers.

In Germany, it was a 101-year old woman, in Spain a 96-year old woman, in Romania a 26-year old nurse, in Slovakia an infectious disease specialist, in Hungary a doctor, and in Poland a head nurse, among others.

Although Sunday was the official EU-wide vaccination date, Hungary, Germany and Slovakia had started a day earlier.

"It's here … the good news at Christmas," said German health minister Jens Spahn.

But Spahn's announcement had also followed the discovery of a new variant spreading among member states after being first discovered in Britain.

The UK-detected mutation is more contagious, triggered various global travel bans against Britain, and caused massive lorry disruptions across the English Channel.

"What we understand is that we have increased transmissibility, in terms of its ability to spread," Maria Van Kerkhove from the World Health Organisation told the BBC last week.

The French health ministry confirmed late Friday evening that it had detected its first case of the new variant after someone had returned from the UK, spreading further alarm among member states.

France reported 8,822 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours on Sunday, compared to Saturday's 3,093.

The variant has since been detected in Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Meanwhile, hundreds of British tourists at the Swiss ski resort of Verbier have been ordered into quarantine.

Around half have reportedly gone into hiding.

"Many of them stayed in quarantine for a day before they set off unnoticed under cover in the darkness," Jean-Marc Sandoz, a municipal spokesperson was cited as saying in the Deutsche Welle news agency.

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EU leaders regularly held video-conferences to coordinate the pandemic reaction last year, but countries and EU institutions recently began a blame-game over the sluggish roll-out of vaccines.

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