The European Union threatened on Wednesday to ban exports of Covid-19 vaccines to Britain to safeguard scarce doses for its own citizens.
Covid-related deaths in the EU are currently over 550,000 and less than 10% of the bloc’s population has been inoculated.
Europe is facing a third wave of the pandemic which, if it hits, will derail plans to restart travel this summer.
European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen told reporters the situation was worsening. “We are in the crisis of the century,” she said. “We see the crest of a third wave forming in member states, and we know that we need to accelerate the vaccination rates.”
Von der Leyen said the flow of vaccine products from the US was smooth, but she voiced frustration over a lack of deliveries from AstraZeneca in Britain. She said 10 million vaccine doses had been exported from EU manufacturing plants to the former member state.
“We are still waiting for doses to come from the UK,” she said in the latest sign of souring ties between Britain and the 27-nation bloc.
“If this situation does not change, we will have to reflect on how to make exports to vaccine-producing countries dependent on their level of openness. We will reflect on whether exports to countries with higher vaccination rates than us are still proportionate.”
British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab hit back, saying the UK government expects the EU to honour its contracts.
Further complicating matters, various EU nations including its largest members Germany, France and Italy this week halted AstraZeneca shots pending safety checks.
The situation threatens EU plans to launch a “green digital certificate” that would record information on vaccinations, tests and Covid recovery to let travellers cross borders freely again.
Southern EU countries reliant on tourism hope the new certificate can win final approval in June and go online in time for the peak season. But countries including France, Belgium and Germany have voiced scepticism.