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EU leaders meet to discuss COVID-19, vaccines

06:36 22 January 2021 Author :  

Leaders of the EU on Thursday met via videoconference to discuss the novel coronavirus pandemic and vaccination efforts in the member states.

"The EU leaders will discuss coordination on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the large-scale roll-out of vaccines and the deployment of all available instruments to limit the spread of the virus," said an EU statement.

Possible travel measures against the acceleration of the pandemic due to the new variants of the virus will also be on the meeting's agenda.

Speaking at a press conference in the German capital Berlin ahead of the leaders' summit, Chancellor Angela Merkel urged people in Germany and Europe to take the virus variants more seriously.

"We can see the danger of the mutation of the virus more clearly now than we could at the beginning of the year," she said, adding that the mutant strain first detected in the UK was also seen in several other European countries, including Germany.

The main topic on the agenda is expected to be vaccine production and distribution amid rising criticism in EU countries over the vaccines' slow deployment.

"On vaccines, the European Commission will present a state of play on the vaccination roll-out and on how to ensure future production increases and equitable access to vaccines. The leaders will be invited to share their experience on the implementation of vaccination campaigns," the statement said.

"The leaders will also discuss the suitability of a common approach to vaccination certification within the EU," it added.

The European Commission's communication reaffirms on Tuesday the need for vaccination certificates, but it leaves it to EU governments to determine the conditions and privileges the document would allow.

Stella Kyriakides, commissioner for health, called it "premature" to talk about other uses of such certification than medical purposes, but did not rule out cross-border solutions in the future.

However, the EU body recommends that the states agree on a common approach by the end of January.

In a letter to the European Commission last week, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis proposed an EU-wide COVID-19 vaccination certificate for travel.

In an attempt to save the coming tourist season, he suggested granting free movement to those who have already been vaccinated.

Although Mitsotakis dismissed the idea of making vaccination compulsory or a prerequisite for travel, his suggestion has already divided EU leaders.

European Council President Charles Michel also warned that these travel certificates should be introduced once a great number of people already received the jabs. Otherwise, the governments risk creating enormous frustration.

The leaders will also "look at cooperation with third countries in relation to vaccines, both in the EU's neighborhood and beyond."/aa

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