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EUROPE

COMPARE: Which countries are leading the race to vaccinate in Europe?

Germany and France both set new daily vaccination records this week. Here's how different countries in Europe compare.

COMPARE: Which countries are leading the race to vaccinate in Europe?
People queue outside a vaccination center on April 26, 2021. Photo. Lluis Gene/AFP

After a sluggish start, the pace of vaccination in the European countries covered by The Local’s network has picked up significantly this month, with Germany hitting a daily record 1.1m doses on Wednesday, France a daily record of 566,000 doses on Friday, and Spain now averaging over 300,000 doses a day, 

If you drag the date button at the bottom of the chart below back to the start of vaccinations on December 27th and then move it slowly forward to the current day, you can see clearly how Spain, Germany, and Austria have pushed ahead. 

You can also see how Denmark, the quickest European Union country off the mark in January and February, has lost its lead due to its decision to suspend the AstraZeneca jab on March 11th, and then on April 14th to discontinue its use completely. 

Denmark had also banked heavily on the Johnson&Johnson vaccine, committing to taking 8.2 million doses, making it particularly hard hit by the delay in deliveries of the vaccine.

If you look at the chart below showing total vaccine doses delivered, you can see clearly how the pace has been accelerating, with Germany, France, Italy and Spain each administering about twice as many doses in April as they did in March. 

France, the worst performer among the country’s covered by The Local in January and February, started improving in March, first overtaking Sweden, Belgium, and The Netherlands in terms of per capita doses administered, and then briefly overtaking Germany in early April. 

Until the spurt in vaccinations over the last few weeks, Germany has been steady but unspectacular, ranking in the middle of the countries covered by The Local in terms of the number of doses delivered. 

Denmark still leads in the share of its population that is fully vaccinated, thanks to its decision to keep a relatively short three-week gap between the first and second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines until April 16th, when the gap was extended to six weeks. 

Switzerland has also had a relatively short one-month gap between doses, with the country’s Covid-19 Task Force only recommending on April 21st that the gap be extended to six weeks. 

As a result, more than 11 percent of Denmark’s population is now vaccinated, with Switzerland not far behind. That’s nearly double the share achieved by Denmark’s neighbour, Norway. 

When it comes to the share of the population who have had at least one dose, however, the picture is almost reversed, underlining the impact of national priorities and vaccination strategies. 

The decision of Germany’s Permanent Vaccination Commission on March 4th to recommend extending the gap between the first and second AstraZeneca dose to a maximum of 12 weeks has paid dividends here, with more than a quarter of people in the country having had at least one dose. 

Norway and Sweden have had a six-week gap between doses for the Pfizer vaccine since March, with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health recommending this Friday that the gap be extended to 12 weeks for both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines.  

The chart below makes it clear that while the EU took control of vaccine purchasing for most of its member states, countries have different strategies once they receive the deliveries.

While France, Germany, Denmark and Austria began giving the vaccine to all vulnerable groups by the end of February, and Norway in March, Sweden and Spain have kept a tight focus on the elderly who are seen as most at risk. 

One of the factors that helped Denmark achieve its relatively rapid rollout at the start was the high trust in vaccines in the country, an advantage it shared with Norway, Germany and Sweden. 

According to a YouGov study commissioned by Imperial College (which provides the data to the chart below), at the time vaccinations began at the end of December, 53 percent of Danes said they would take a vaccine if given to them that week,  compared to just 19.9 percent of respondents from France. 

Vaccine scepticism among those not yet vaccinated has since then reduced in all 16 countries surveyed except for the United Kingdom (where the slight fall is probably due to a stable number of vaccine sceptics comprising a greater share of those yet to be inoculated). 

When Denmark suspended and then discontinued the AstraZeneca vaccine in mid-March the share of unvaccinated survey respondents who would have a dose that week fell from 72 percent to 65 percent, with smaller falls also seen in Italy, Spain, Germany and Norway. But confidence in the vaccine has since bounced back to 67 percent. 

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ENERGY

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

European governments are announcing emergency measures on a near-weekly basis to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine.

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

Hundreds of billions of euros and counting have been shelled out since Russia invaded its pro-EU neighbour in late February.

Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to households to fill up their cars.

The public spending has continued, even though European Union countries had accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.

After announcing €14billion in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted the latest spending put Italy, “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.

The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank that is tracking energy crisis spending by EU governments, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe, after Germany.

READ ALSO How EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Rome has allocated €59.2billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product.

Germany tops the list with €100.2billion, or 2.8 percent of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.

On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.

France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises early, ranks third with €53.6billion euros allocated so far, representing 2.2 percent of its GDP.

Spending to continue rising
EU countries have now put up €314billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.

“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, told AFP.

The energy bills of a typical European family could reach €500 per month early next year, compared to €160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy, to the energy price freeze in France, and subsidies public transport in Germany.

But the spending follows a pandemic response that increased public debt, which in the first quarter accounted for 189 percent of Greece’s GDP, 153 percent in Italy, 127 percent in Portugal, 118 percent in Spain and 114 percent in France.

“Initially designed as a temporary response to what was supposed to be a temporary problem, these measures have ballooned and become structural,” Tagliapietra said.

“This is clearly not sustainable from a public finance perspective. It is important that governments make an effort to focus this action on the most vulnerable households and businesses as much as possible.”

Budget reform
The higher spending comes as borrowing costs are rising. The European Central Bank hiked its rate for the first time in more than a decade in July to combat runaway inflation, which has been fuelled by soaring energy prices.

The yield on 10-year French sovereign bonds reached an eight-year high of 2.5 percent on Tuesday, while Germany now pays 1.8 percent interest after boasting a negative rate at the start of the year.

The rate charged to Italy has quadrupled from one percent earlier this year to four percent now, reviving the spectre of the debt crisis that threatened the eurozone a decade ago.

“It is critical to avoid debt crises that could have large destabilising effects and put the EU itself at risk,” the International Monetary Fund warned in a recent blog calling for reforms to budget rules.

The EU has suspended until 2023 rules that limit the public deficit of countries to three percent of GDP and debt to 60 percent.

The European Commission plans to present next month proposals to reform the 27-nation bloc’s budget rules, which have been shattered by the crises.

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