European Union (EU) leaders will endorse prolonged export checks and seek to coordinate an eventual lifting of travel curbs when they meet next week to discuss COVID-19 vaccination shortages, according to a draft decision seen by Reuters.
The bloc is facing a third wave of the pandemic but has been struggling to ensure enough vaccines, its sluggish inoculation campaign falling behind those of ex-EU member state Britain, the United States and Israel.
“Accelerating the production, delivery and deployment of vaccines remains essential to overcome the crisis,” the 27 national leaders are due to say in a joint statement following their next talks on March 25-26.
They would back extending a scheme requiring authorisation for any COVID-19 vaccine exports, a measure to keep the scarce shots under closer tabs, until the end of June.
EU officials threaten new export controls on vaccine shipments from Europe:
The EU has so far blocked one shipment of vaccines to Australia and says overall it has sent more than 40 million doses to countries around the world since the beginning of February.
The leaders will also discuss the latest threat by their executive European Commission to stop exports to Britain, which the EU says has not shared shots amid cuts in deliveries to the bloc promised by the Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca.
While France, Germany and Italy broadly support tighter export curbs on those who do not reciprocate, countries including the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland are more cautious about cutting off the UK.
EU countries have often failed to stick to a joint approach on COVID-19, fighting over vaccines and equipment, or introducing unilateral travel and border checks that weigh on trade and businesses inside the bloc.
But with more vaccines expected in the second quarter, southern EU countries most reliant on tourism are seeking a more coordinated reopening with the help of new, EU-wide travel passes.
“Preparations should also start on a common approach to the gradual lifting of restrictions, to ensure that efforts are coordinated when the epidemiological situation allows for an easing of current measures,” the leaders are due to say.
“…Work on COVID-19 interoperable digital certificates should be taken forward as a matter of priority,” they are due to say, though there is scepticism in countries including Belgium, France and Luxembourg over the proposal.
For the time being, however, several EU countries are re-imposing tighter curbs on daily lives again after a year of lockdowns and tentative easing of COVID restrictions in Europe.
11 European countries have paused the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine: