Britain secretly flew out 700,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford to Australia, under the noses of the EU, to get the vaccine roll-out Down Under up and running.
The news comes on the back of rising tensions between the EU and Australia over 3.1 million doses of the life-saving jab the EU is alleged to have blocked. Having failed to procure enough vaccine for itself and with infections rising, the EU has embarked on a controversial policy of conserving supplies through draconian trade restrictions, upsetting the flow of critical Covid jabs worldwide.
While Australia’s PM, Scott Morrison continues to take a diplomatic line with the EU, a spokesperson for the Australian government has lashed out at Eurocrats, accusing them of imposing a ban on all vaccine exports, and trying to deflect attention by “arguing semantics”.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the UK’s first shipment of 300,000 Oxford jabs arrived in Australia on 28 February, a month after the EU had put in place its initial export restrictions, making it difficult for the government in Canberra to source vaccine made in the bloc.
The Australian government had originally said the jabs had come from “overseas”. They were consequently presumed to have come from the Continent.
Another consignment arrived in March, shortly before Italian authorities, urged on by the EU, blocked export of a 250,000-dose shipment of the same medicine bound for the Commonwealth nation. That incident, together with the export restrictions leaves Australia 3.1 million doses short of its 3.8 million commitment from AstraZeneca.
Following Morrison’s very lightly pointed finger at the EU on Tuesday, officials in Brussels said Australia should take up the issue directly with manufacturers, AstraZeneca.
Morrison continues to behave diplomatically towards the European Union, which is in crisis over its disastrous vaccine strategy. Barely 15% of its population has been jabbed.
“I want to stress that at no time yesterday did I make any comment about the actions of the European Union, nor did I indicate any of the background reasons for the lack of supply that we have received from those contracted doses,” said Morrison on Wednesday.
“I simply stated a fact – that 3.1 million of the contracted vaccines that we had been relying upon in early January when we’d set out a series of targets did not turn up in Australia. That is just a simple fact.”
The Morrison added that he would write to AstraZeneca.
According to a Whitehall source, no part of the UK’s stocks of vaccine was sacrificed to get Australia’s programme going.
Irrefutable evidence of export of jabs from Britain to another country completely obliterates the EU’s repeated argument that the UK is not playing fair.
Last month, the European Council’s president, Charles Michel said Britain had “imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced on their territory.”
The claims were used to bolster the campaign within the EU, led by Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, to punish Britain with a formal vaccine export ban. Von der Leyen was supported by Emmanuel Macron of France and Germany’s Angela Merkel. The campaign failed at a summit of EU leaders, however the restrictions remain in place and act as a de facto ban, as seen by the seizure of jabs destined for Australia.
Certainly, the Australian government believes it has been blacklisted by Brussels. “AstraZeneca has not been able to secure an export licence from Europe to send the remaining doses, and they know they would never be approved by the European Commission,” said a spokesperson for the Australian government.
“The European Commission itself has confirmed their export control regime has blocked the export of a number of those doses, including a shipment of 250,000 doses, and they also requested we withdraw other export permit applications.”
The Australian government had not previously accused the EU of blocking exports. The spokesman went on to reject the EU’s defence that it had only seized the now infamous quarter of a million doses at the Italian port.
“The European Commission is arguing semantics but at the end of the day, all we want is what Australians have ordered so we can get more vaccines in arms.”