Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held on Thursday (4 March) a summit meeting in Jerusalem with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Danish Prime Minister Metter Frederiksen on a project to advance the establishment of a joint fund for the research, development and production of vaccines.
“Prime Minister Metter Frederiksen of Denmark and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of Austria, welcome to Jerusalem. This is a special day when two dynamic European leaders come together to Jerusalem to discuss together how we continue the battle against COVID,’’ said Netanyahu as he welcomed the two European leaders.
‘’We’re going to do a joint R&D fund and discuss the production, the possibility of joint investment in productions of facilities for vaccines. I think this is great news, and I think it reflects a respect we have for each other and the belief, the confidence that we have in working together to protect the health of our peoples,” he said.
He spoke about tne establishment of a joint R&D fund of Israel, Austria and Denmark, and beginning joint efforts for common production of future vaccines.
‘’I think this is something that we have to do, because we’re going to probably need, I can’t say with certitude, but with very high probability, we’ll probably need protection for the future,’’ Netanyahu said.
‘’ I wouldn’t say that we’re rushing towards herd immunity, but we’re getting there and we’ll see how that works. I think Israel serves as a model for the world, and we’re discussing some of our experiences, sharing those experiences with our friends, and indeed you are two wonderful friends for Israel,’’ the Israeli premier said.
The move by the two EU member states comes amid rising anger over delays in ordering, approving and distributing vaccines that have left the EU 27 nations trailing far behind Israel’s world-beating vaccination campaign.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said it was right that the EU procures vaccines for its member states but the European Medicines Agency (EMA) had been too slow to approve them. He also lambasted pharmaceutical companies’ supply bottlenecks.
“We must therefore prepare for further mutations and should no longer be dependent only on the EU for the production of second-generation vaccines,” he said.
His Danish counterpart was also critical of the EU’s vaccine programme. “I don’t think it can stand alone, because we need to increase capacity. That is why we are now fortunate to start a partnership with Israel,” she told reporters on Monday.
Mette Frederiksen said the three countries “have been working very closely together” since the start of the pandemic.
The countries share a vision for the future that “timely access to vaccines will be critical for our societies in the years to come… We cannot allow us to be caught off guard once again. We have new mutations, maybe new pandemics and maybe new health crises will endanger our societies again.”
She said Denmark and Austria are “very inspired by Israel’s ability to roll out the vaccines” for the coronavirus so efficiently.
Chancellor Kurz hailed Netanyahu, who he said was one of the first to identify the great danger of the pandemic in early 2020 and was “maybe the main reason why we reacted quite early in Austria.”
Israel is also now “the first country in the world that shows that it is possible to defeat the virus,” he said. “The world is looking to Israel with admiration. Now, we have to prepare… for the next stages of the pandemic,” he added.
Kurz said vaccine production is a complex process, and as part of the partnership on production each country will focus on specific elements of the process.
Netanyahu said that “together we’re starting here something that I think will galvanize the imagination of the world.”
‘’Other countries have already called me and they’ve said that they want to be part of this effort,’’ he noted.
Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu, Kurz and Frederkisken visited a gym in the city of Modi’in where they to monitored the coronavirus routine in Israel according to the green pass model.
The trip by the Austrian and Danish leaders to Israel was criticized by France, as the Elysee Palace maintained that European Union nations should stick together in developing anti-COVID vaccines.
“Our conviction remains very clear that the most effective solution to meet vaccination needs must continue to be based on the European framework,” said a spokesperson for the French foreign ministry.
But the European Commission stopped short from censuring the Israel-Austria-Denmark alliance.
“We welcome the fact that member states are looking at all possible options to improve the common European response to the to the virus,” said EU Commission spokesman Eric Mamer. “For us, there is no contradiction,” he added.
Mamer added that with 27 member states and a population of 450 million, ”the EU faces a much bigger challenge than Israel with a population of ten million.” ”It’s not as if you can take one model and simply stick it on the European Union and say:”That’s what you should be doing,” he said. ”Each country is in charge of its own vaccine rollout strategy,” he noted.
The Green Pass
“The ‘green pass’ is our way of trying to open places in Israel, to bring back to life everything that we know… doing it in a safe zone. It is not really a bubble that is completely safe, but it is safe as it can possibly be. We allow more people to enter events as long as they show at the entrance the green pass,” explained Dr Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Israeli health ministry, during a media briefing organised by Europe Israel Press Association on the country’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its speedy vaccination programme.
“300 people are now allowed in a theatre, and 500 in an open space. Soon more people will be accomodated at events. Next week restaurants will open with green pass so there is a gradual reopening but we are not doing something too soon or too fast,” she said.
She added: “Israel started with an ‘open sky strategy’ at first there were ‘green’ and ‘red’ countries based on the infection rate in those countries but countries can ‘move pretty rapidly from green to red’ . That route brought a ‘significant amount of disease’ into the country because people were not keeping isolation as much as we thought when they came back from abroad.”
Professor Ran Balicer, Chief Innovation Officer for Clalit, Israel’s largest health-care organization and a senior advisor to the Israeli Government and Prime Minister Office on the COVID-19 pandemic response, said: "We already see some indirect effects that those who are vaccinated are both protected…we are soon reaching the 90% target set by the government… therefore we can take more risks and chances …we are now actively opening up the economy through a set of dedicated procedures – what we call ‘green badge dependent settings."
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