PARIS: Pfizer-BioNTech said on Friday deliveries of its leading coronavirus vaccine to Europe will be delayed in the weeks ahead, hampering the rollout as global deaths from the pandemic close in on two million.

News of the vaccine setback came as World Health Organisation experts were working on advice to fight new strains of the disease feared to be more contagious.

The soaring number of fatalities — 1,994,833 — is matched by the spread of infections, with Europe recording 30,003,905 cases, nearly a third of the worldwide total, according to a tally based on official statistics.

The announcement that Pfizer-BioNTech shots would be delayed for up to a month during work to boost capacity at the US company’s plant in Puurs, Belgium was met with dismay by many EU members.

Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Baltic states called the vaccine holdup “unacceptable” — although Berlin and Brussels said Pfizer had vowed to deliver the full quantities of doses promised for the first quarter before the end of March.

France had said earlier Friday that its pharma giant Sanofi could manufacture vaccines on behalf of other developers, including Pfizer-BioNTech, while awaiting approval of its own shot -- not expected before the end of the year.

With cases still mounting and vaccination drives still in their infancy, many countries are doubling down on virus restrictions.

Portugal entered a fresh lockdown on Friday while Britain began requiring negative tests for entry, and new curbs on populations were announced from Italy to Brazil and Lebanon.

Looking to bring forward crisis talks with regional leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pushing for a “significant” tightening of curbs to slow the country’s infection rate after cases hit two million, participants at a meeting of her centre-right CDU party said.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2021

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