LONDON: Britain expects its contractual arrangements on coronavirus vaccines to be honoured following disagreements with the EU over supplies of the shot, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said on Saturday.
Following a u-turn by the European Commission over threats on Friday to stop the free-flow of vaccines over the Irish border, Gove said Britain was “confident” its supplies of vaccines would be delivered.
“We´ve entered into contractual arrangements with AstraZeneca and Pfizer, we expect those arrangements to be honoured,” the minister said.
He added that after exchanges with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was “clear that she understood exactly the UK government´s position”.
Gove said the European Union made a mistake when it threatened to invoke Article 16 of the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol to monitor and in some cases block exports of vaccines produced in EU plants.
“They recognise that they have made a mistake,” he said. “We want to work with our friends and neighbours in the European Union. We recognise some of the difficulties and the pressures that they face,” Gove added.
Johnson held conversations late on Friday with Von der Leyen as the row over shortages of a Covid-19 vaccine developed by the British-Swedish drugs group AstraZeneca threatened to boil over.
British foreign minister Dominic Raab wrote on Twitter on Saturday that during conversations with EU Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovkis he had been “reassured the EU has no desire to block suppliers fulfilling contracts for vaccine distribution to the UK”.
“The world is watching and it is only through international collaboration that we will beat this pandemic,” he added.
Northern Ireland´s First Minister Arlene Forster on Saturday urged Britain to remove a post-Brexit protocol with the European Union after it became the focus of a diplomatic row over Covid vaccines.
“The protocol is unworkable, let´s be very clear about that, and we need to see it replaced because otherwise there is going to be real difficulties here in Northern Ireland,” Foster told BBC radio.
The leader of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party has long been critical of the protocol which allows Northern Ireland to follow EU customs rules and avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
“It´s absolutely disgraceful, and I have to say the Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) now needs to act very quickly to deal with the real trade flows that are being disrupted between Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” she added.
“The Commission will ensure that the Ireland / Northern Ireland Protocol is unaffected,” the EU Commissioner said in a statement.
Johnson had told EU chief Ursula von der Leyen of his “grave concerns about the potential impact” the European bloc´s decision might have.
Michel Barnier, the EU´s chief Brexit negotiator, told The Times newspaper Brussels needed to step back from the escalating row over vaccines.
“We are facing an extraordinarily serious crisis, which is creating a lot of suffering, which is causing a lot of deaths in the UK, in France, in Germany, everywhere,” he said.
“I believe that we must face this crisis with responsibility, certainly not with the spirit of one upmanship or unhealthy competition,” Barnier added.
The EU still has plans to go ahead with a broader vaccine export ban which could impact on supplies of the Pfizer-Biontech jab in Britain.
Meanwhile, travellers to Iran from Europe will be required to self-quarantine for two weeks after testing negative upon arrival, a health official said. Travellers from other regions, including neighbouring countries, will have to have tested negative before arrival in the country, Alireza Raisi, spokesman for the national coronavirus taskforce, said on state TV.Raisi said travellers arriving from Europe should have negative test results, would be tested again and would have to self-quarantine even if their test is negative, state media reported. Previously, people coming from Europe were only required to test negative.He did not say when exactly the new measures will go into effect, saying only “from now on”.Meanwhile, health officials said the Iranian-manufactured Barekat vaccine was found to be effective against the highly contagious coronavirus variant that emerged in Britain.The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have issued a sweeping order requiring the wearing of masks to protect against the spread of Covid-19 on virtually every form of public transportation throughout the country.
The order, issued late on Friday, extends to travel on airplanes, trains, buses, taxis, ride-shares, subways, ferries and ships.
It expands on one of the first executive orders signed by President Joe Biden, which required masking for interstate travel as part of a larger strategy to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
The new order, which also covers intrastate travel, takes effect at 11:59 pm Monday (0459 Tuesday GMT).
Source: The News