BRUSSELS — The European Union took on vaccine producer AstraZeneca in a Brussels court on Wednesday and accused it of diverting promised doses to other nations when it had promised them for urgent delivery among the 27 member states.
The bloc accused the Anglo-Swedish company of pushing EU deliveries back so it could give them to Britain, among other nations. EU lawyer Rafael Jafferali asked the court to impose a fine of 10 million euros ($12.2 million) per infraction.
AstraZeneca’s contract signed with the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, on behalf of member states foresaw an initial 300 million doses for distribution among all 27 countries, with an option for another 100 million.
The doses were expected to be delivered throughout 2021. But only 30 million were sent during the first quarter.
MORE ON THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Vaccine inequality in India sends many falling through gaps
— Countries eager toreopento travel as pandemic recedes
— UN official: Conflicts make controlling COVID-19 more difficult
— European Union takes on AstraZenecain court over vaccine deliveries
Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemicand https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
PARIS — France will impose a mandatory quarantine on visitors from Britain to prevent the spread of a virus variant first detected in India.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the new measure will be similar to limits imposed in Germany on people traveling from the U.K.
“France is going to take similar measures and so put in place obligatory isolation for people coming from the United Kingdom,” he said.
He didn’t say when the quarantine will be introduced. He said more information would be released shortly.
BRUSSELS — Belgium has suspended the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for people under age 41 following the death of a person who had received the shot.
The government is asking for urgent advice from the European Medicines Agency before it will consider lifting the suspension.
It said a woman was vaccinated through her foreign employer outside the Belgian system and had died in Belgium last week after developing “serious thrombosis and reduced blood platelets.”
The government says the impact on the national vaccination drive would be very limited. Belgium was using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for elderly with reduced mobility and the homeless since it only takes one shot to be protected. Those shots will be continued.
LISBON, Portugal — Portuguese authorities say they are speeding up their COVID-19 vaccination drive nationwide after prompting an outcry by saying inoculations would be accelerated only in the Lisbon region.
The Lisbon and Tagus Valley region has recently seen an infection uptick, and on Tuesday it accounted for almost half of Portugal’s new daily cases, with 175.
The region extends more than 140 kilometers (87 miles) north from the capital and more than 80 kilometers (50 miles) to the east, with a population of around 3.6 million people.
Two weeks ago, a Lisbon soccer team won the national title, sending tens of thousands of fans into the streets to celebrate, many of them without masks.
The Health Ministry announced Tuesday evening that Lisbon region residents in their 40s could start getting vaccine shots starting June 6 and people in their 30s starting June 20.
Three hours later, amid protests from other cities about regional discrimination, the government said the stepped up rollout would cover the whole country.
ROME — Whistleblower protection groups urged the World Health Organization on Wednesday to launch an independent review into the case of an Italian researcher who reported being pressured to falsify data in a now-spiked WHO report into Italy’s coronavirus response.
The groups and some 30 other public health and anti-corruption organizations sent an open letter to the president of the World Health Assembly. The assembly, WHO’s highest decision-making body, is made up of all WHO member states and is meeting this week.
In the letter, the signatories called for the U.N. agency to commit to reforming its whistleblowing protection policy. They said the Italian researcher, Dr. Francesco Zambon, had suffered retaliatory treatment for having reported the incident within WHO’s internal ethics system.
Zambon resigned in March, saying he had been isolated and marginalized after he complained internally, and then publicly, about the scandal.
Zambon has said he was pressured by a then-assistant director general, Dr. Ranieri Guerra, to falsify data about Italy’s preparedness going into the pandemic in a report he and other researchers were writing to help other countries prepare as COVID-19 swept across the globe last year.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan is offering jabs to its entire adult population in hopes of boosting COVID-19 vaccination rates, with only 5% of the population inoculated so far.
Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar announced on Twitter that the registration of those ages 19 and above will begin from Thursday. So far, the vaccination was open to those 30 years and above.
Pakistan has reported a steady decline in infections and fatalities from COVID-19 in recent days, but the vaccination response has been sluggish.
The only shots given are three Chinese-made vaccines.
Pakistan has registered 908,576 confirmed cases and 20,465 deaths since last year.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean officials say they plan to allow people to drop their masks from July if they have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, as they mull incentives to promote inoculation.
Health Minister Kwon Deok-choel said Wednesday the plan is contingent on the government succeeding in its goal of administering first doses to 13 million people by the end of June. Officials say people will continue to be required to wear mask indoors or at outdoor gatherings where it’s difficult to maintain distance.
Other incentives include providing vaccine-takers with discounts at public parks and museums and allowing them to participate in larger private gatherings. The country is currently clamping down on social gatherings of five or more people.
South Korea has wrestled with a slower vaccine rollout than many other developed economies.
Around 3.9 million people so far have received their first doses since the country launched its mass immunization program in late February, which represents less than 8% of the country’s 51 million population.
Health officials have lamented what they describe as excessive public fear of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been linked to rare blood-clotting side effects.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka has received 500,000 doses of Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine donated by China as the Indian Ocean island nation faces severe shortage of vaccines amid a recent rise in infections.
The vaccine stock that arrived early Wednesday is the second donation from China, following a shipment of 600,000 doses in March.
Sri Lanka is facing a shortage of vaccine after the producer in neighboring India failed to provide the promised Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine stocks. The government on Tuesday agreed to buy 14 million doses of Sinopharm from China.
The current vaccination program is focused on Sri Lanka’s Western province, which includes the capital of Colombo and its suburbs. It is where the majority of the country’s coronavirus cases have been.
Sri Lanka so far has reported 167,172 coronavirus cases and 1,243 deaths from COVID-19.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations humanitarian chief says that despite last year’s U.N. call for global cease-fires to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, many conflicts never stopped, including in Syria, Yemen and Congo and new ones erupted.
Mark Lowcock told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that this has made it more difficult to control the spread of the coronavirus and care for infected people in many countries. He cites “multiple reports of atrocities” against civilians caught in conflicts during the pandemic.
Lowcock says insecurity, sanctions, counter-terrorism measures and administrative hurdles are hindering humanitarian operations. And he says the pandemic has made aid deliveries worse because of suspended flights, border closures, quarantine measures and lockdowns.
BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. John Bel Edwards is scrapping nearly every remaining coronavirus restriction in Louisiana and lifting the statewide requirement that students must wear a mask in the classroom and at school events.
The Democratic governor announced Tuesday that he’ll keep the statewide public health emergency declaration in place. But Louisiana will have almost none of the rules governing businesses and behavior over the last 15 months of the pandemic.
Edwards cited the wide availability of the coronavirus vaccine in Louisiana.
Masks still will be required on public transit, in health care facilities and in prisons. Schools, businesses and local government officials can decide if they want to mandate masks.
WASHINGTON — White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt says “we need to get to the bottom” of the origins of the pandemic pathogen and the World Health Organization and China need to do more to provide definitive answers for the global community.
The precise origin of the virus remains undetermined and speculation has reigned about whether it jumped from animals to humans or whether it could have escaped from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan, the city that saw the first outbreak.
“We need a completely transparent process from China,” Slavitt said at Tuesday’s coronavirus task force briefing. Full assistance from the WHO is needed, and “we don’t have that now.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci said “many of us” feel like it was a natural occurrence, but “we don’t know 100%” and it is imperative to investigate.
MEXICO CITY — San Diego County and private businesses have donated 10,000 coronavirus vaccines to vaccinate workers at U.S.-owned border assembly plants in Tijuana.
Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard says the program is aimed at helping equalize vaccination rates at closely connected points along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“This is the first cross-border agreement we have had. This is surely going to grow a lot,” Ebrard said. “We plan to replicate this all along the border.”
The vaccines are being administered by medical personnel from the University of California, San Diego, at the San Ysidro border crossing. The program started Monday with about 150 to 200 shots administered per hour.
Mexico has had a shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, and has received only about 34.2 million doses for a population of 126 million. Since most vaccines require two doses, Mexico has only vaccinated about 15% of its population so far.