Draghi Sees Italy Lockdown Easing, Urges EU Vaccine ‘Autonomy’

Mario Draghi said he hopes to ease Italy’s lockdown after the Easter holidays if pandemic conditions allow for such a move, as the prime minister called on allies across Europe to guarantee “strategic autonomy” by forging a vaccine production chain across the continent.

Speaking to senators in Rome ahead of the European Union’s virtual summit on Thursday and Friday, Draghi said that early next month primary and pre-schools could possibly begin reopening in high-risk, restricted-movement “red” zones where bars, restaurants and many stores are closed.

“As the vaccination campaign continues, it is good to start thinking about, and planning, reopenings,” Draghi said. “We are looking closely at the data on contagions, but if the epidemiological situation allows it, we will start to reopen schools as a priority.”

The former head of the European Central Bank has been pressing Brussels to lean on pharmaceutical companies to respect vaccine delivery commitments while warning that Italy will continue to block exports by firms which breach contracts. The country along with the EU stopped an AstraZeneca Plc shipment bound for Australia earlier this month.

EU vaccine shipments to the rest of the world could face severe disruptions under tougher rules set to be unveiled on Wednesday. So far, European efforts have been focused on AstraZeneca Plc, which has failed to deliver more than half of the doses it promised for the first quarter. The EU and Britain are negotiating to break a deadlock over Astra’s coronavirus shots.

Draghi, who has said he will be inoculated with the Astra shot, urged EU partners to seize the chance to set up vaccine production facilities across the bloc.

”The pandemic has made it obvious that there is an opportunity to invest in vaccine production in Europe, we must build a production chain which is not vulnerable to shocks and decisions that come from abroad,” Draghi said.

‘Strategic Autonomy’

“People speak a great deal about strategic autonomy, often in reference to defense, security, the single market, but I believe the first strategic autonomy, today, is on vaccines,” the premier said.

Draghi reiterated his goal of tripling daily vaccinations in Italy to about 500,000 in mid-April. The prime minister has linked accelerating a stuttering vaccination campaign to freeing up more economic stimulus measures to offset a prolonged lockdown. The euro area’s third-biggest economy shrank by almost 9% last year.

The government plans to reach 80% vaccine coverage by the end of September, though Italy has so far administered just 7.9 million vaccine doses, representing 13 per 100 people. That compares with 46 doses per 100 in the U.K., according to the Bloomberg Virus Tracker.

With 3.4 million Covid-19 cases and 105,000 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak last year, Italy is among the hardest-hit countries in Europe.

A stock of 29 million doses of the Astra vaccine is ready for export to the U.K. at an Italian plant, according to a report by Italian daily La Stampa earlier Wednesday. Authorities discovered the doses at the Catalent Inc. vial-filling plant near Rome following a report by the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, the newspaper said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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