Before the EU summit: vaccinate, test, travel – preferably uniformly

Status: 02/25/2021 8:21 am

At the EU summit today, the focus is once again on dealing with the pandemic. There are great differences in progress between states – common rules could help. The most important points.

From Stephan Ueberbach,
ARD studio Brussels

Vaccinations

The vaccination campaign is still slow to get going in the European Union. Malta, Denmark, Finland, Poland and Slovakia are ahead: here between six and eight percent of people have already received at least one dose. With just under five percent, Germany is in the middle, while Bulgaria, Latvia and Croatia have the most catching up to do.

Stephan Ueberbach

Stephan Ueberbach
ARD studio Brussels

Responsible for the sluggish start of the vaccination campaigns are also, but not only, the manufacturers’ production problems. In Germany, for example, hundreds of thousands of AstraZeneca ampoules are dumped unused. The preparation has an image problem, although experts such as Charité virologist Christian Drosten find that the vaccine is much better than its reputation. The manufacturer’s reputation has also suffered because AstraZeneca cannot keep its delivery promises.

For this reason, among other things, the EU wants to promote the development and production of vaccines in Europe in order to be better prepared for the further course of the corona pandemic and possible other health crises. In the run-up to the summit, a number of countries, including Belgium, Poland and Spain, called on the EU to spend more money on it. In addition, the heads of state and government will have to discuss how to deal with vaccines from Russia or China.

Test strategy

Every country in the EU has its own test strategy, the differences are huge. In principle, everyone agrees: Only if vaccinations and tests are carried out as comprehensively as possible can the pandemic be overcome, schools can be reopened or remain open and the restrictions on daily life gradually reduced.

However, the test rates in Europe are far apart. Most studies in relation to the number of inhabitants are carried out in Austria, Denmark or France, other countries such as Germany still lag far behind. However, the quality of the rapid tests in particular is not without controversy – which makes cross-border acceptance of the test results difficult. Common approval standards could help.

Sequencing the mutations

The virus mutations are currently of greatest concern to politics and science. The British variant in particular is on the advance in the EU, but the South African and Brazilian variants have already appeared. All are considered to be significantly more contagious than the original virus.

In order to be able to understand which type is spreading where, positive corona tests have to be examined very carefully in the laboratories, i.e. “sequenced” – and as comprehensively as possible. Also so that the vaccines can be adjusted accordingly.

The EU Commission is already in talks with pharmaceutical companies and wants to accelerate the approval process. Research into corona mutations is to be funded with 225 million euros. 75 million of these are intended for the expansion of sequencing, with the aim of being able to check which virus variant is involved in at least five percent of positive tests across Europe.

Travel rules

This week the EU Commission sent out a series of dunning letters complaining about stricter entry rules. The addressees included Denmark, Hungary and Belgium. The German customs controls at the borders to the Czech Republic and Tyrol are also a thorn in the side of the Commission, because such solo efforts, as it is said in Brussels, endanger the freedom of movement and the transport of goods.

At this summit, EU Council President Charles Michel wants to talk about how the restrictions for cross-border commuters and trade can be kept within tolerable limits – for example with rapid tests. Countries with strong tourism such as Greece, Portugal or Malta require the introduction of a Europe-wide vaccination certificate so that vaccinated holidaymakers can travel unhindered and not another summer season goes down the drain.

However, a corresponding decision is not to be expected. There are still too many unanswered questions, for example from Germany or France. for example, whether or not vaccinated people can still be contagious. In addition, a decision about relaxation should only be made when as many people as possible have had the opportunity to vaccinate. And the EU is still a long way from that.

EU summit: vaccinating, testing, traveling – these are the big corona construction sites

Stephan Ueberbach, ARD Brussels, February 24, 2021 7:12 p.m.

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