EU seeks big fine in court case over AstraZeneca deliveries

An AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine box with vials. The European Union took AstraZeneca to a Brussels court Wednesday accusing the drugmaker of postponing deliveries. (AP)
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Updated 26 May 2021
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EU seeks big fine in court case over AstraZeneca deliveries

  • EU accused AstraZeneca of postponing deliveries so the Anglo-Swedish company could service Britain among others
  • AstraZeneca’s contract with the European Commission foresaw an initial 300 million doses being distributed

BRUSSELS: The European Union took on vaccine producer AstraZeneca in a Brussels court on Wednesday and accused the drugmaker of acting in bad faith by providing shots to other nations.
The drugmaker had promised them for urgent delivery to the EU’s 27 member countries.
The EU accused AstraZeneca of postponing deliveries so the Anglo-Swedish company could service Britain, among others.
AstraZeneca’s contract with the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, foresaw an initial 300 million doses being distributed, 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.
Deliveries have increased slightly since then but, according to the EU commission, the company is set to supply 70 million doses in the second quarter when it had promised 180 million. A lawyer for AstraZeneca said the company said Wednesday that “more or less 60 million doses” from the total order have been delivered so far.
EU lawyer Rafael Jafferali told the court that AstraZeneca expects to deliver the total number of contracted doses by the end of December, but he said that “with a six-month delay, it’s obviously a failure.”
Jafferali asked the court to fine the drugmaker 10 million euros ($12.2 million) per infraction and to force AstraZeneca to pay 10 euros per dose for each day of delay as compensation for breaching the EU contract.
The EU has insisted its gripes with the company are about deliveries only and has repeatedly said that it has no problems with the safety or quality of the vaccine itself. The shots have been approved by the European Medicines Agency, the EU’s drug regulator.
The EU’s main argument is that AstraZeneca should have used production sites located within the bloc and in the UK for EU supplies as part of a “best reasonable effort” clause in the contract. Jafferali said the European Commission agreed to pay 870 million euros for the shots and 50 million doses that should have been delivered to the EU went to third countries instead, “in violation” of the contract.
Charles-Edouard Lambert, another lawyer on the EU team, said AstraZeneca decided to reserve production at its Oxford site for Britain.
“This is utterly serious. AstraZeneca did not use all the means at its disposal. There is a double standard in the way it treats the UK and member states,” he said.
A lawyer representing AstraZeneca, Hakim Boularbah, said the company’s May 2020 agreement with the UK government and Oxford University, the vaccine’s co-developer, to supply 100 million doses of vaccine at cost clearly gave priority to Britain.
“It’s very shocking to be accused of fraud,” Boularbah said, calling it “a groundless accusation.”
The EU also accused AstraZeneca of misleading the European Commission by providing data on the delivery delays that lacked clarity.
While the bloc insists AstraZeneca has breached its contractual obligations, the company says it has fully complied with the agreement, arguing that vaccines are difficult to manufacture, with dozens of components produced in several different nations, and it made its best effort to deliver on time.
“Unfortunately, to this date, more or less 60 million doses from the order have been delivered,” Boularbah said, adding that AstraZeneca does everything it can to increase production and will deliver the 300 million of doses agreed to as soon as possible.
He played down the urgency claimed by the EU, saying 13 million AstraZeneca doses were stocked in EU member states. However, since the AstraZeneca vaccination takes two shots up to 12 weeks apart, member states can opt to reserve some of their supplies to make sure that recipients can get their second dose on time.
As part of an advanced purchase agreement with vaccine companies, the EU said it invested 2.7 billion euros ($3.8 billion), including 336 million ($408 million), to finance the production of AstraZeneca’s vaccine at four factories.
The long-standing dispute drew media attention for weeks earlier this year amid a deadly surge of coronavirus infections in Europe, when delays in vaccine production and deliveries hampered the EU’s vaccination campaign.
Cheaper and easier to use than rival shots from Pfizer-BioNTech, the AstraZeneca vaccine developed with Oxford University was a pillar of the EU’s vaccine rollout. But the EU’s partnership with the firm quickly deteriorated amid accusations it favored its relationship with British authorities.
While the UK made quick progress in its vaccination campaign thanks to its AstraZeneca supplies, the EU faced embarrassing complaints and criticism for its slow start.
Concerns over the pace of the rollout across the EU grew after AstraZeneca said it couldn’t supply EU members with as many doses as originally anticipated because of production capacity limits.
The health situation has dramatically improved in Europe in recent weeks, with the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths on a sharp downward trend as vaccination has picked up. About 300 million doses of vaccine have been delivered in Europe — a region with around 450 million inhabitants, with about 245 million already administered.
About 46 percent of the EU population have had at least one dose.
Fanny Laune, another lawyer from the European Commission’s legal team, insisted the case needs to be treated urgently despite vaccination campaigns picking up across the bloc. She said other producers in the EU vaccine portfolio have experienced delays in deliveries and could still be hampered by production problems.
She added that several EU countries have based their vaccine strategy on the AstraZeneca shots and that five member states won’t be able to reach the targets set by the EU by the end of June if the drugmaker doesn’t provide the promised doses in time.
“If this legal action allows to save just one life, it justifies an urgent ruling,” Laune said.
In total, the European Commission has secured more than 2.5 billion of vaccine doses with various manufacturers, but is now shying away from placing more orders with AstraZeneca. It recently sealed another major order with Pfizer and BioNTech through 2023 for an additional 1.8 billion doses to be shared among EU members.
A judgment is to be delivered at a later date. In addition to the emergency action, the European Commission has launched a claim on the merits of the case for damages for which a hearing hasn’t yet been set by the court.


Pro-Palestinian protesters leave after Drexel University decides to have police clear encampment

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Pro-Palestinian protesters leave after Drexel University decides to have police clear encampment

News outlets reported that police gave protesters a warning to clear the encampment and protesters left
“An unauthorized encampment that involves large numbers of people unaffiliated with Drexel trespassing on our campus is illegal,” Fry said

PHILADELPHIA: Protesters packed up their belongings and left a pro-Palestinian encampment at Drexel University on Thursday after the school announced a decision to have police clear the encampment.
University President John Fry said in a statement that he decided to have campus police and public safety officers join Philadelphia police in clearing the encampment as peacefully as possible.
News outlets reported that police gave protesters a warning to clear the encampment and protesters left. Protesters didn’t immediately comment.
Fry said the university is committed to protecting the community members’ right to assemble peacefully and express their views, but he has the responsibility and authority to regulate campus gatherings to ensure safety and fulfill the mission to educate students.
“An unauthorized encampment that involves large numbers of people unaffiliated with Drexel trespassing on our campus is illegal,” Fry said. “The language and chants coming from this demonstration, underscored by protesters’ repugnant ‘demands,’ must now come to an end.”
Protesters gathered their belongings as dozens of officers on bicycles arrived around 5:20 a.m., but in less than a half hour only a few items remained on the Korman Family Quad where the 35-tent encampment had been, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“The campers picked up their belongings for the most part and left by their own free will,” Philadelphia Police Sgt. Eric Gripp said.
The encampment had persisted despite Fry’s threat earlier this week to have the encampment cleared. Fry said Tuesday that classes would be held virtually for a third day on Wednesday after administrators tried to open a line of communication to the protesters but were rebuffed. News outlets reported that the university announced Wednesday night that the campus would return to normal operations Thursday.
In his statement early Thursday, Fry said previous requests for protesters to disperse had been ignored, but he was asking Drexel affiliates to leave the encampment so police could “escort any remaining trespassers off our campus.”
A wave of pro-Palestinian tent encampments on campuses has led to over 3,000 arrests nationwide.
On Thursday, the leaders of Northwestern University and Rutgers University are expected to testify at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing about concessions they gave to pro-Palestinian protesters to end demonstrations on their campus. The chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles, also was scheduled to appear at the latest in a series of hearings looking into how colleges have responded to the protests and allegations of antisemitism.

Bangladeshi architect’s community-centric work builds resilience to climate change

Updated 34 min 57 sec ago
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Bangladeshi architect’s community-centric work builds resilience to climate change

  • Marina Tabassum is among Time’s most influential people of 2024
  • Her mosque in Dhaka received the 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture

DHAKA: With structures that “breathe” and are designed in tune with Bangladesh’s history and environment, Marina Tabassum’s work focuses on the local community and resilience in the country where every year millions of people lose their homes and livelihoods to climate change.

The award-winning founder of Marina Tabassum Architects came to the international spotlight after winning the 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture for the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque in Dhaka, which she designed, built and fundraised.

An architect and educator, she is also the recipient of the prestigious 2021 Soane Medal for Architecture, the 2021 Gold Medal by the French Academy of Architecture, the 2021 Arnold W. Bruner Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters 2021, and the Lisbon Millennium Lifetime Achievement Award, which she received in 2022.

In 2024, she was featured on Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list for developing a “practice and a way of being that prioritizes local cultures and values, as well as the perils faced by our shared planet.”

One of the drivers of Tabassum’s work is a sense of responsibility.

“There is enormous disparity in our human condition in Bangladesh and I feel like it’s not just my responsibility, (but) it’s for everybody to take that, their own share of the responsibility, and to do something about it,” she told Arab News at her practice in Dhaka.

“And I am of a breed who has the knowledge, has the capacity, all the different things that are required to take the responsibility to reduce these differences.”

Throughout her nearly three-decade career, she has designed some of Bangladesh’s most famous structures, which, besides the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, are the Museum of Independence in Dhaka — a project with Kashef Chowdhury — as well as housing adapted to the environment, including a modular mobile house for climate victims in the country’s south and north.

The Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, which is personally very close to Tabassum, was built on land donated by her grandmother and with a modest budget raised through community contributions.

“I was not just designing it, but also constructing it, fundraising it, so that became a very intensely involved project. I would say it is an important milestone for me and also it gave me a lot of international acclaim, which definitely helps in many ways,” she said.

The prayer hall of Marina Tabassum's Bait Ur Rouf Mosque in Dhaka. (Aga Khan Trust for Culture)

The building’s porous brick walls keep it ventilated and cool while natural light enters it through a skylight. For Tabassum, one of the most important features in her work is that it “has to be able to breathe without artificial aids,” especially in her own subtropical country.

“It’s important for us to have our buildings as open as possible so that we can have natural ventilation, air can come and pass through the buildings. That’s what I call the breathing of a building,” she said.

“That’s an absolutely crucially important phenomenon that we should integrate in our architecture.”

Another crucial factor is having her architecture rooted, as much as possible, in the local context, including by sourcing material locally and working with local craftsmen.

Working with local communities and “trying to make ourselves available to their service,” is the main focus of her projects now — inspired also by her parents and teachers.

“Till date, my father, who is 87 years of age, is still working as a doctor, giving treatment to people who cannot afford cancer therapy. I think that’s embedded in us, to some extent, to have that value of giving,” she said.

As an architect, she has been inspired by many different people — her professors at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and Muzharul Islam, an architect and urban planner who is considered the grand master of modernism in South Asia.

“There’s a lot that I learned from him,” Tabassum said. “He always talked about how we have a small country and a huge population, how the entire country needs to be planned in a proper manner in terms of land use, in terms of housing, food production, and all the other things that a country requires, and every single space should be properly planned and designed — which we are still yet to do.”

In 2020, she established a new non-profit branch of her practice — the Foundation for Architecture Community Equity — dedicated to providing a home and humane living environment to Bangladesh’s low-income, landless, or climate-affected communities.

One of its flagship initiatives is Khudi Bari, which translates to “little house” in Bengali. Under the project, over 50 such bamboo-frame houses have already been built for the coastal communities where seawater regularly claims the land, and for flood-prone communities in the north, where swelling rivers cause catastrophic flooding during the monsoon season.

Marina Tabassum, center, and her colleagues from the Foundation for Architecture and Community Equity stand next to the frame of a house for low-income Bangladeshi communities affected by climate change. (FACE)

The cheap and light houses are made from materials that are widely available in the regions and are designed to be easily dismantled and moved when needed.

“Architecture is not a product, architecture has expanded and has always had that expanded idea of creating a proper environment, a good environment. And in order to create a good environment, you cannot just focus on a building, but you have to create, starting from planning to landscape to building (according) to people’s living conditions, economics,” Tabassum said.

“It’s about changing the mindset in many ways … The changes I would like to see (are) more about rootedness, more about sourcing locally, building responsibly, including people.”


Sunak and Starmer hit UK campaign trail after shock election call

Updated 23 May 2024
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Sunak and Starmer hit UK campaign trail after shock election call

  • Sunak’s Conservatives have trailed Labour by around 20 percentage points in opinion polls since he became PM in Oct. 2022
  • Sunak has shocked and angered many in his party when he gambled by calling a July 4 election, months earlier than expected

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Labour Party rival Keir Starmer kicked off their election campaigns on Thursday, each arguing that only they can snap the country out of its economic and political malaise.
Sunak, whose Conservatives have trailed Labour by around 20 percentage points in opinion polls since he became prime minister in October 2022, shocked and angered many in his party when he gambled by calling a July 4 election, months earlier than expected.
He argued on Thursday that the economy was turning a corner and he had a plan to tackle illegal immigration. But with prices in the shops up 21 percent in the last three years and the national health service buckling under record waiting times, it may be hard to persuade voters that Britain is on the right track.
“Even though there’s more work to do and I know it will take time for you to see the benefits, the plan is working,” Sunak told voters at an event with workers in central England.
The former investment banker announced his decision in the pouring rain in Downing Street on Wednesday, having to shout over protesters blaring the song “Things Can Only Get Better” — an anthem associated with Labour’s crushing 1997 election victory under Tony Blair that ended the last long period of Conservative rule.
Sunak also admitted on Thursday that the first flights sending illegal migrants to Rwanda, a flagship policy that is tangled in legal challenges, would not start before the vote.
He did receive one boost, however, when Nigel Farage, a former Brexit campaigner, said he would not seek election for Reform, likely blunting the appeal of the right-wing party and reducing its ability eat into the Conservatives voter base.
At stake is control of the world’s sixth largest economy which has endured years of low growth and high inflation, is still battling to make a success of its 2016 decision to leave the European Union, and is slowly recovering from twin shocks of COVID-19 and an energy price spike caused by the war in Ukraine.
That backdrop makes the economy one of the most important electoral battlegrounds. The two parties are also likely to focus on migration, defense, health and security.
POLITICAL TURMOIL
Polls show voters want change, even if they are not hugely enthused by Starmer and his Labour Party, after 14 years of Conservative government marked by unprecedented levels of political turmoil and so-called culture war issues.
Coffee shop worker Kitty McMurray, on her way to work, said the country needed an election because it felt like everything was falling apart. “Bring it on,” the 29-year-old said.
Starmer told voters at an event in Gillingham, southeast England, that he wanted to renew, rebuild and reinvigorate Britain. He focused on deprivation and the invisible barriers that prevent many from improving their lot.
Referencing children who live in inner-city areas where big corporations such as Google have a presence, he said: “they cannot imagine themselves ever making that journey from their school to those jobs. It’s a few hundred yards.”
Starmer is the country’s former chief prosecutor who has pulled Labour’s politics back to the center ground after it lurched to the left under his predecessor.
Were Labour to win, Starmer would become Britain’s sixth prime minister in eight years, the highest turnover since the 1830s, underscoring the level of turmoil that has gripped a country once known for its political stability and pragmatism.
While the electioneering gets underway, activity in parliament is expected to pick up too as the government works out which of the pieces of legislation currently in process will be rushed through, and which will fall by the wayside.
Laws currently under discussion include Sunak’s plan to impose some of the world’s strictest anti-smoking rules by banning anyone aged 15 and under from ever buying cigarettes.
With Sunak calling the election earlier than the October or November that most had expected, all parties were also racing to line up enough candidates to contest every seat.


Doctors treat hundreds of victims of heatstroke in Pakistan after heatwave hits the country

Updated 23 May 2024
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Doctors treat hundreds of victims of heatstroke in Pakistan after heatwave hits the country

  • People started arriving at hospitals on Wednesday after a heatwave began
  • Authorities on Thursday urged people to stay indoors, stay hydrated and avoid travel

ISLAMABAD: Doctors treated hundreds of victims of heatstroke at hospitals across Pakistan on Thursday after an intense heatwave sent temperatures above normal levels due to climate change, officials said.
Temperatures soared as high as 49 degrees Celsius the previous day in Mohenjo Daro. The city, known for its archaeological sites, is in southern Sindh province, which was badly hit by climate-induced monsoon rains and devastating floods in 2022. The heatwave is forecast to continue for at least a week.
Authorities have urged people to stay indoors, hydrate and avoid unnecessary travel. But laborers say they don’t have a choice because they need to work to feed their families.
“Pakistan is the fifth most vulnerable country to the impact of climate change. We have witnessed above normal rains, floods,” Rubina Khursheed Alam, the prime minister’s coordinator on climate, said at a news conference in the capital, Islamabad.
Doctors say they treated hundreds of patients in the eastern city of Lahore, while scores of people were brought to hospitals in Hyderabad, Larkana and Jacobabad districts in the southern Sindh province.
“The situation has been getting worse since yesterday, when people affected by heat started coming to hospitals in the Punjab province,” said Ghulam Farid, a senior health official. Pakistan has set up emergency response centers at hospitals to treat patients affected by the heat.
The state-run ambulance service is now carrying bottled water and ice to provide emergency treatment to victims of the heat, health officials said.
Heatstroke is a serious illness that occurs when one’s body temperature rises too quickly, potentially causing some to fall unconscious. Severe heatstroke can cause disability or death.
This year, Pakistan recorded its wettest April since 1961, with more than double the usual monthly rainfall. Last month’s heavy rains killed scores of people while destroyed property and farmland.
Daytime temperatures are soaring 8 degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit) above May’s temperatures, raising fears of flooding in the northwest because of glacial melting.
The 2022 floods caused extensive damage in Sindh and Baluchistan provinces, as 1,739 people were killed across the country.
Currently, Pakistan’s southwest and northwestern areas are also experiencing the heatwave.
Authorities have shut schools for a week in Punjab. In the city of Lahore people were seen swimming in the roadside canals. Pakistan says despite contributing less than 1 percent to carbon emissions, it is bearing the brunt of global climate disasters.
Alam said recent erratic changes in weather patterns were the result of man-made climate change.


France arrests person planning ‘violent action’ during Olympic torch relay

Updated 23 May 2024
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France arrests person planning ‘violent action’ during Olympic torch relay

PARIS: French law enforcement officers arrested someone who was planning a violent action during the Paris 2024 Olympic torch relay in Bordeaux, the Interior ministry said on Thursday.
“Thanks to the police officers and, more broadly, to all the Ministry’s agents who are providing security for this popular celebration with remarkable professionalism and commitment,” Interior minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on X.
The torch relay started in the morning and is scheduled to end around 1930 local time (1730GMT). The Olympics will be held from July 26-Aug 11.