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Omicron injects urgency into EU summit

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The lightning unfold of Omicron in Europe and elsewhere has added a way of urgency to an EU summit Thursday, with leaders struggling to current a united, bloc-wide strategy.

Projections that the mutated and extremely infectious Covid pressure might be dominant within the EU as early as subsequent month have pushed the difficulty to the highest of the agenda and ignited fears of a well being disaster.

The summit can even sort out different huge subjects urgent onerous on EU capitals, particularly the Russian navy build-up that would presage an invasion of Ukraine.

That danger dominated a get-together on Wednesday between EU leaders and their neighbouring jap European counterparts, together with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

An ongoing confrontation with Belarus over migration flows testing the EU’s borders and spiking vitality costs aggravating sky-high inflation spherical out the high-level talks.

All of it makes for a charged summit, the final earlier than France takes over the rotating six-month European Union presidency from Slovenia within the New Yr.

An Omicron winter

Europe is bracing for an Omicron winter, with European Fee chief Ursula von der Leyen saying on Wednesday: “We’re advised that by mid-January, we must always count on Omicron to be the brand new dominant variant in Europe.”

The timing is perilous. Though many EU international locations are within the world vanguard by way of vaccination charges, the roll-out is patchy throughout the 27-nation bloc.

9 EU international locations have vaccination charges under 60 p.c.

READ Europe sees spike in omicron cases, weighs new restrictions

Omicron’s obvious skill to mute the results of present vaccines has galvanised efforts to get booster photographs into arms.

However the EU well being company ECDC on Wednesday warned jabs alone now wouldn’t be sufficient, on condition that Omicron infections double round each two days.

“There can be no time to deal with the vaccination gaps that also exist,” Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Illness Prevention and Management, stated.

“The approaching months can be troublesome,” acknowledged EU well being commissioner Stella Kyriakides.

Crumbling coordination

Whereas some hope — based mostly on preliminary information from South Africa, the place Omicron is already dominant — the brand new pressure produces milder signs than the Delta variant, mathematical modelling recommended its sheer infectivity may overwhelm hospitals.

The draft summit conclusions, seen by AFP, stress that “rolling out vaccinations to all and deploying booster doses are essential” whereas additionally sustaining cross-EU coordination.

The united entrance, nonetheless, is visibly weakening.

Italy, Eire, Portugal and Greece have all tightened entry restrictions for EU arrivals by requiring PCR checks even of vaccinated travellers.

Their measures appeared to undermine the principles of an EU Covid certificates that since July has ensured simple intra-EU journey with out quarantine or checks for the vaccinated.

Whereas EU international locations can droop a few of the guidelines in well being emergencies, they want first to inform Brussels 48 hours prematurely.

A European Fee spokesman stated Italy didn’t accomplish that.

An EU official, talking on situation of anonymity, admitted to journalists that, for EU capitals, “at instances it’s essential resolve very quick” when confronted with an emergency.

“Italy has a really excessive vaccination price. I can perceive why member states are taking very sturdy measures to fight the virus,” he stated.

He stated the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine was the preferred within the EU, and added that ought to vaccines be wanted particularly for Omicron “my guess is they’re solely out there within the second quarter,” between April and June subsequent yr.

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