‘Way too soon’ for second coronavirus recovery plan, Vestager says

The goal isn't to spend the most money, says Commission vice president.

‘Way too soon’ for second coronavirus recovery plan, Vestager says

“It’s way too soon to consider” a second coronavirus pandemic recovery plan, Executive Vice President of the European Commission Margrethe Vestager told French daily Les Echos in an interview published Monday.

“I find it strange to discuss a new plan we’re not sure we need, when we already have so much to do,” Vestager said, when asked whether U.S. President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan, announced in March, could push the EU to bulk up its €750 billion pandemic recovery effort. “The goal, by the way, is not to spend the biggest amount of money, but to yield the best results,” she added.

Asked why the EU is reluctant to get on board with Biden’s proposal for waiving patent rights for COVID-19 vaccines, Vestager said: “Patents are not the problem. The difficulty is in increasing production capacity to speed up vaccination, and for people to register to be inoculated.” She added that it’s “simpler to negotiate with a handful of players who own patent rights rather than letting them be accessible for everyone, with no one feeling really responsible for production levels.”

“I won’t go into American motivations. I’ll just note that they’re not exporting any vaccine,” Vestager said.

On the EU’s handling of the pandemic, Vestager said the bloc “could have avoided many pitfalls if the deals we signed with pharmaceutical firms were more transparent.”

The Commission vice president also addressed resistance among some EU countries against Biden’s 21 percent global minimum tax proposal. Asked whether the EU’s unanimity requirement for tax rules was a problem, Vestager acknowledged that “decisions on taxation are still too slow in Europe. But a lot has been done in recent years, despite the unanimity rule. What matters is the momentum that creates the change … Now that the United States is more ambitious, we’re able to move forward and find an agreement by this summer.”

Vestager also discussed the Commission’s proposal to tackle unfair competition from companies receiving state aide from countries like China. “Of the 10 to 15 takeovers that have taken place recently, some would have fallen within the scope of this regulation,” Vestager said. On when she expects the proposal to enter into law, Vestager said: “The draft is ready, it just needs to be adopted. The ball is in the European Parliament’s court.”

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Boris Johnson banks on British caution as restrictions lift

The UK prime minister presses ahead with lifting the next round of COVID restrictions from Monday.

Boris Johnson banks on British caution as restrictions lift

LONDON — Boris Johnson is banking on British caution as he pushes ahead with England’s biggest step toward freedom from COVID-19 restrictions yet, despite fears the fast-transmitting Indian variant of the disease is taking hold.

Six people or two households will be allowed to meet indoors from Monday, and those eating and drinking in pubs and restaurants in England will no longer be at the mercy of the unpredictable British weather, with indoor hospitality allowed to reopen.

But in comments released by No. 10 Downing Street ahead of restrictions being eased, the U.K. prime minister warned the public to “take this next step with a heavy dose of caution.”

“I urge everyone to be cautious and take responsibility when enjoying new freedoms today in order to keep the virus at bay,” he added.

Arrival from India

On Sunday, Johnson’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock was unleashed to hammer home the potential risks the new COVID variant, first discovered in India, may pose.

Just over 1,300 cases have so far been identified, and Hancock said it is becoming the dominant strain in some parts of the country, including Bolton and Blackburn. There are also smaller numbers of cases in other parts of the country.

The virus could “spread like wildfire” among unvaccinated groups, he warned. “If it gets out of hand, we will have a very, very large number of cases,” he said. Even with the “high” protection from the vaccine, it was “not absolute” and a very large number of cases would have a “knock-on to hospitalizations” from the disease, he added.

Ministers have been buoyed by “very early data” from Oxford University labs that suggests the U.K.’s vaccines do work against the new version of the disease. But with the U.K. government only hitting its target of giving two-thirds of the population a first vaccine last week, the rollout may not be moving fast enough to avert a wave of hospitalizations.

“We’re in a race between the vaccination program and the virus and this new variant has given the virus some extra legs in that race,” Hancock warned.

People over the age of 35 will be able to book their COVID-19 vaccine this week, and second doses for the most vulnerable are being brought forward to give the most vulnerable maximum protection.

Reverse, reverse

For now, ministers are pushing ahead with plans to ease restrictions.

Johnson is under pressure from his own backbenchers not to veer off course. Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith warned ministers over the weekend to “hold their nerves,” saying a “stop-go, stop-go approach will roll us into the winter with an economic disaster.”

“We have got to be careful, but we are so jittery we are in danger of frightening ourselves into a corner,” he said.

Johnson has, however, already raised the prospect of delaying England’s planned final easing of restrictions in June. Hancock too did not rule out a reversal in the easing of some restrictions when asked about the prospect on Sunday.

“I very much hope not and our goal remains, our strategy remains to take a cautious and irreversible approach to ensure that we are always looking at the data all the way through and, crucially, to use the vaccine to get us out of this pandemic,” he said.

In the meantime, the hope in ministerial circles is that Britons will avoid going over-the-top on Monday, and keep indoor contact to a minimum.

“Outside is safer than inside, so even though you can from tomorrow meet up inside, it’s still better to meet up outside,” Hancock said.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email pro@politico.eu for a complimentary trial.

 

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