Austria poised to procure 1 million Sputnik vaccines
Decision to loosen lockdown over Easter being reversed due to fears of a third wave
Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Tuesday ‘the only thing that should matter is whether the vaccine is effective and safe, and not where it comes from’. Photograph: Ronald Zak/AP Photo
Austria is reportedly ready to buy one million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine as the country enters a 10-day shutdown from Friday, including night-time curfews.
The country is reversing its decision to loosen its lockdown over Easter amid fears that a third wave in the Alpine republic will overload intensive care units.
Austria is poised to follow Hungary, which is already administering the vaccine before it receives EU regulatory approval, with reports suggesting Vienna’s first consignment of 300,000 doses could arrive in April, and the rest by June.
According to reports, Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz spoke with Russian president Vladimir Putin on February 26th, further talks followed and a confidentiality agreement had been signed.
On Tuesday Mr Kurz insisted no agreement was yet in place but that a pandemic was no time for “geopolitical blinkers”.
“If Austria receives an additional one million vaccine doses, we will be able to return to normality faster and could save many lives as well as jobs,” he said. “The only thing that should matter is whether the vaccine is effective and safe, and not where it comes from.”
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is studying data on the Russian vaccine, with a decision on a permit not likely before June. On Tuesday Austrian health minister Rudolf Anschober insisted that “every vaccine used in Austria must be effective and safe”.
A pre-emptive move by Vienna is likely to set off another round of debate in the EU: Berlin insists it will await EMA approval before buying the vaccine while Paris has warned that Moscow is using Sputnik V as a “propaganda tool” of “aggressive diplomacy rather than solidarity”.
Reports of Vienna’s Sputnik vaccine procurement came ahead of another full lockdown from April 1st to 11th, aimed at breaking exponential virus growth. The new restrictions include curfews – in some states from 8pm to 6am and in others for 24 hours – except for “basic daily needs”, such as exercise and food shopping.
Easter gatherings have been curtailed with just one individual allowed to visit members of another household.
Austria eased its lockdown in early December, tightened up again immediately after Christmas and relaxed again a month ago. Since then, the seven-day average infection rate in the country of 8.8 million has jumped 78 per cent to 3,200.
Further north, Denmark has said it expects to have all of its 5.8 million residents vaccinated by July 25th, a week earlier than expected, due to the arrival of a larger consignment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen has presented a timetable for the gradual rollback of restrictions in April and May as vaccination of the over-50s is completed.
Meanwhile Sweden is likely to delay the relaxation of restrictions next month after a request from its public health agency.
Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told the government in a letter that the number of new Covid-19 cases increased by 16 per cent between the week ending March 14th and the week ending March 24th.
“Making any changes in this situation would send a signal that the risk had reduced,” he said in an interview.
“When adherence reduces that can have extremely large effects on the spread of infection.”
Sweden’s government had been planning to raise the maximum number allowed attend an event to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors from April 11th.
With 10 million residents and 13,430 deaths so far, Sweden’s death rate per capita is many times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours – though lower than some European countries that opted for tighter lockdowns.