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.


India’s capital sees first heat-related death this year, media reports

Updated 52 min 27 sec ago
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India’s capital sees first heat-related death this year, media reports

  • India experiencing a severe heat wave conditions for weeks, and the temperature in Delhi reached a record high of 52.9 degrees Celsius

NEW DELHI: India’s capital Delhi recorded its first heat-related death this year as temperatures reached record highs, media reported on Thursday.
Parts of northwest and central India have been experiencing heat wave to severe heat wave conditions for weeks, and the temperature in Delhi reached a record high of 52.9 degrees Celsius in Mungeshpur neighborhood on Wednesday.
That reading may be revised however, as maximum temperatures in other parts of the city ranged from 45.2 C to 49.1 C.
The capital territory’s first heat-related fatality this year was a 40-year-old laborer who died of heatstroke on Wednesday, The Indian Express newspaper reported.
Delhi’s lieutenant governor on Wednesday directed the government to ensure measures were taken to protect laborers by providing water and shaded areas at construction sites and granting them paid leave from noon to 3 p.m.
Delhi recorded a temperature of 36 C which felt like 37.8 C on Thursday morning, according to India’s weather department. It has predicted heat wave to severe heat wave conditions over northwest and central India will begin reducing gradually from today.
India classifies a heat wave as a situation where the maximum temperature is 4.5 C to 6.4 C above normal, while a severe heat wave occurs when the maximum is higher than normal by 6.5 degrees or more.


NATO meets as pressure grows to let Ukraine hit Russia

Updated 58 min 36 sec ago
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NATO meets as pressure grows to let Ukraine hit Russia

  • The gathering in the Czech capital is meant to focus on efforts to support Ukraine at NATO’s summit in Washington in July

PRAGUE:NATO foreign ministers meet in Prague on Thursday in the face of growing calls for leading allies to lift restrictions stopping Kyiv from using Western weapons to strike inside Russia.
The two-day gathering in the Czech capital is meant to focus on efforts to hammer out a package of support for Ukraine at NATO’s summit in Washington in July.
But the swirling debate over whether to let Kyiv use arms sent by Western backers to strike inside Russia risks overshadowing the meeting.
Ukraine has been pressing its supporters — chiefly the United States — to allow it to use the longer-range weaponry they supply to hit targets inside Russia.
The United States and Germany have so far refused to permit Kyiv to strike over the border out of fear that it could drag them closer to direct conflict with Moscow.
Ahead of the NATO meeting — which starts with a dinner on Thursday — alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said repeatedly it was time for members to reconsider those limits as they hamper Kyiv’s ability to defend itself.
French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to shift the dial on Tuesday when he said Ukraine should be allowed to “neutralize” bases in Russia used to launch strikes.
German chancellor Olaf Scholz, however, remained less committal, saying Ukraine should act within the law — and Berlin had not supplied the weapons to hit Russia anyway.
Across the Atlantic, the White House said it still opposed Ukraine using US arms to strike inside Russia, although Secretary of State Antony Blinken hinted that that strategy could change.
Moscow, meanwhile, has reacted strongly — with President Vladimir Putin warning there would be “serious consequences” if Western countries give approval to Ukraine.
Those pressing for Ukraine to be given a freer rein say they hope momentum is building for the United States and others to change course as Kyiv struggles to stop Russia’s offensive in the Kharkiv region.
“Clearly president Macron’s ideas help allies who believe this rule should change,” said a diplomat from one NATO country.
“I hope the debates in the US will take Macron’s ideas into consideration.”


As NATO allies wrestle with that issue, ministers in Prague are also trying to come up with a support package that keeps Ukraine satisfied as its hopes of eventual membership remain a distant prospect.
After pressing hard at a summit last year, Kyiv has been told firmly by NATO countries — led by the United States and Germany — that it should not expect any concrete progress toward joining the alliance in Washington.
NATO chief Stoltenberg instead wants to get alliance members to make clear, multi-year commitments on how much aid they’ll give to Ukraine in the future.
Last month he floated an overall target figure of 100 billion euros ($108 billion) over five years, but that fell flat among allies confused over what it would involve.
“People understand you need to announce something, but they don’t just want it to be air,” the Western diplomat said.
Diplomats say debate is still ongoing as allies try to work out what any pledges would cover and how they might be structured.
One area where NATO does seem closer to agreement is a plan for the alliance to take over from the United States coordination of weapon supplies to Ukraine.
So far, Washington has been in charge as NATO has stayed clear of involvement in delivering arms due to worries it would incite Russia.
Proponents say making the alliance overall responsible could help insulate future deliveries against a possible return of Donald Trump to the US presidency.
But others fear it might just add more bureaucracy.
“The first hope is to not make it less effective than the current system,” a second Western diplomat said.
Diplomats say that to avoid opposition from Hungary — one of the friendliest countries to Russia in the alliance — Budapest has been given an “opt-out” not to be involved.


4 Pakistanis killed by Iranian border guards in remote southwestern region, Pakistani officials say

Updated 30 May 2024
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4 Pakistanis killed by Iranian border guards in remote southwestern region, Pakistani officials say

  • he incident happened near the border village of Mashkel in Baluchistan province on Wednesday

QUETTA: Iranian border guards opened fire at a vehicle carrying a group of Pakistanis, killing four people and wounding two others in a remote area in the southwest, Pakistani officials said Thursday.
The incident happened near the border village of Mashkel in Baluchistan province on Wednesday, local police said. Government administrator Sahibzada Asfand said it was unclear why the Iranian forces opened fire.
Local police say the bodies of the four men had been handed over to their families.
There was no immediate comment from Tehran or Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry.
Security forces on both sides often arrest smugglers and insurgents who operate in the region. Pakistan in tit-for-tat strikes in January targeted alleged militant hideouts inside Iran, killing at least nine people in retaliation for a similar attack by Iran.


China could arrange Russia-Ukraine peace conference, Lavrov tells RIA

Updated 30 May 2024
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China could arrange Russia-Ukraine peace conference, Lavrov tells RIA

  • Russia has repeatedly called for talks with a precondition that Kyiv and the West recognize its territorial gains in Ukraine
  • Lavrov criticized the United States for aiding Ukraine, which Russian invaded in February 2022

China could arrange a peace conference in which Russia and Ukraine would participate, the RIA news agency cited Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Thursday.
Lavrov said such a move would be a continuation of Beijing’s efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis.
“We share (China’s) position that the root causes of the conflict need to be addressed in the first place and legal interests of all parties need to be protected, with subsequent agreements based on the principle of equal and indivisible security,” Lavrov said in an interview with the agency.
“Let me underscore again, this entails respecting realities on the ground, which reflect the will of people living there.”
Russia has repeatedly called for talks with a precondition that Kyiv and the West recognize its territorial gains in Ukraine. Kyiv has rejected those proposals.
Lavrov criticized the United States for aiding Ukraine, saying Washington has become “an accomplice in the crimes of the Kyiv regime.” In the Middle East, Lavrov said, the United States was also “fanning the flames of conflict.”

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, left, greets one of the Ukrainian soldiers who are being trained here on the Patriot ground-based air defense system at a military training area in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania on  May 29, 2024. (dpa via AP)

 

 

 

 

 

 


‘Are you with me?’ Biden and Harris launch Black voter outreach and warn of a second Trump term

Updated 30 May 2024
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‘Are you with me?’ Biden and Harris launch Black voter outreach and warn of a second Trump term

  • Speaking at Girard College, which has a predominantly Black student body, Biden argued that an “unhinged” Trump is peddling misinformation in an effort to win back the White House

PHILADELPHIA: President Joe Biden renewed his election-year pitch to Black voters on Wednesday, lashing out at Donald Trump’s “MAGA lies” and saying the winner of this year’s White House race will make crucial decisions, including on nominees for the Supreme Court, that could affect the country for decades.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, in a joint appearance at a Philadelphia boarding school, thanked Black voters in Pennsylvania and beyond for being the lynchpin to their 2020 victory and they made the case that their agenda has had an enormous impact on improving lives for Black voters.
The Democratic president also argued that an “unhinged” Trump is peddling misinformation in an effort to win back the White House.
“I’ll be damned if I’m going to let Donald Trump turn America into a place of anger, resentment and hate,” Biden said, calling on the crowd to help him and Harris win a second term. “My question is a simple one: Are you with me?”
At Girard College, which has a predominantly Black student body, Biden warned about the threat he said a second Trump presidency would pose and cited some of the racial controversies fanned by the presumptive Republican nominee during his life.
“This is the same guy who wanted to tear gas you as you peacefully protested George Floyd’s murder. The same guy who still calls the Central Park Five guilty, even though they were exonerated,” Biden told the crowd. “He’s that landlord who denies housing applications because of the color of your skin.”
The Philadelphia visit was the start of what the Biden campaign describes as a summerlong effort to engage Black student organizations, community groups and faith centers. It reflects in part how much of their support of him has frayed as Trump aims to make inroads into the longtime Democratic constituency.
The issue of abortion rights and the judiciary also featured in the remarks from Biden and Harris. Biden pledged to codify the protections of Roe vs. Wade, the now-nullified Supreme Court decision that had legalized the right to an abortion, if he and enough Democratic lawmakers are elected, while Harris noted that Trump dramatically shaped the Supreme Court as she invoked the name of Thurgood Marshall, the high court’s first Black justice.
Trump, she said, “handpicked three members of the Supreme Court — the court of Thurgood — with the intention that they would overturn Roe vs. Wade,” the landmark abortion rights ruling. “And as he intended, they did.”
“Who sits in the White House matters,” she said.
Underscoring that point later, Biden said the next president is “going to be able to appoint a couple justices.” With some vacancies on the Supreme Court, Biden said he could “put in really progressive judges, like we’ve always had.”
“Tell me that won’t change your life,” he said.
Among Black adults, Biden’s approval has dropped from 94 percent when he started his term to just 55 percent, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll published in March.
The economy has been a particular thorn in Biden’s side since 2022, when inflation hit a 40-year high. But there have also been signs of discontent in the Black community more recently over Biden’s handling of the seven-month Israel-Hamas war.
Turning out Black voters could prove pivotal for Biden’s chances in what’s expected to be among the most closely contested states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Biden beat Trump in all six states in 2020, but he could face a more difficult climb this year.
Trump has been offering himself as a better president for Black voters than Biden. At a rally last week in the Bronx, he railed against Biden on immigration and said “the biggest negative impact” of the influx of migrants in New York is “against our Black population and our Hispanic population who are losing their jobs, losing their housing, losing everything they can lose.”
The Republican National Committee zeroed in on gas prices and food costs under Biden’s presidency as it attacked his stop in Pennsylvania.
“No matter how much Biden lies, he cannot gaslight Pennsylvanians into supporting him — his approval ratings are abysmal,” RNC Chair Michael Whatley said. “President Trump continues to lead in polls in Pennsylvania and across the country. Pennsylvanians are ready to Make America Great Again, and they will vote for President Donald J. Trump in November.”
The Biden campaign wants to use the new engagement effort in part to remind Black voters of some of the Democratic administration’s achievements during his term. On Wednesday, Biden repeated the refrain “because you voted” as he rattled off a litany of his accomplishments for Black Americans, including record funding for historically Black colleges and universities, forgiveness of federal student loan debt and pardons for simple possession of marijuana.
“Black voters placed enormous faith in me,” Biden said. “I’ve tried to do my best to honor that trust.”
Biden later visited with Black business owners at SouthSide, an event space, and greeted supporters there while continuing to tout his accomplishments for Black voters and, in particular, the economic gains under his presidency. In the more intimate gathering, jointly hosted by the African-American Chamber of Commerce of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, he also stressed to the crowd that “there’s not a damn thing that a white man can do that a Black man can’t do, or do better.”
The Black unemployment rate sits at 5.6 percent, according to the latest federal government data, compared with an average of about 8 percent from 2016 to 2020 and 11 percent from 2000 to 2015. Black household wealth has surged, and Biden’s effort to cancel billions in student loan debt has disproportionately affected Black borrowers.
Biden also points to his appointment of Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black female justice on the US Supreme Court and his pick of Harris as the first Black woman to serve as vice president.
The president’s visit to Philadelphia follows a series of engagements with Black community members in recent weeks, including hosting plaintiffs in the 1954 Supreme Court decision that struck down institutionalized racial segregation in public schools, a commencement address at Morehouse College in Atlanta, and a virtual address to the Rev. Al Sharpton’s racial justice conference.