COVID-19: Austria and Denmark to partner with Israel on vaccines and stop relying solely on 'too slow' EU

Austria and Denmark are to stop relying solely on the European Union for coronavirus vaccines and begin a partnership with Israel.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he will visit Israel with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Thursday.

They are expected to discuss cooperating on vaccine production and research with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It could be described as "unilateral action", Ms Frederiksen said.

Mr Kurz said the two countries would "no longer rely" on Brussels.

Israel has already inoculated a large proportion of its population, while the EU has faced heavy criticism for the slowness of its rollout.

So far, about 5.5% of the Austrian population has been immunised.

Mr Kurz said that while a Europe-wide approach to vaccine procurement had been correct in principle, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) had been too slow in its approval process.

He said Austria and Denmark will "no longer rely on the EU in the future and will in the coming years produce doses of second-generation vaccine for further mutations of the coronavirus together with Israel as well as researching jointly treatment possibilities", the Austria Press Agency reported.

He added: "We must prepare for further mutations and should no longer be dependent solely on the EU in the production of second-generation vaccines."

Ms Frederiksen said the EU's programme could not "stand alone because we need to increase capacity".

She added: "That is why we are now fortunate to start a partnership with Israel."

When asked if Denmark and Austria wanted to take unilateral action in obtaining vaccines, she said: "You can call it that."

However, she said it should not be seen as a vote of no confidence in the EU, with both Denmark and Austria still very active in Europe-wide collaboration.

Other EU countries have been placing side orders for COVID-19 jabs from Russia and China, despite the EMA not yet giving them its approval.

Yesterday, Slovakia ordered two million doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, expecting half to arrive this month.

The Czech Republic, which is currently facing the worst coronavirus outbreak of any EU country, is also considering ordering from Russia.

And Hungary has taken delivery of a vaccine developed by Sinopharm in China, with Prime Minister Viktor Orban saying on Sunday that he had received it.

Ms Frederiksen said she would like to buy surplus doses for Denmark, but only ones that have EMA approval.

Elsewhere, France has approved use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab in people with existing health problems aged between 65 and 74.

As of Friday, France had used less than a quarter of the 1.1m AstraZeneca doses it had received, according to government data.