The foreign minister of France has accused Britain of “blackmail” against the European Union (EU), adding to the ongoing coronavirus vaccine row between the UK and the bloc.
Jean Yves Le Drain told France Info radio on Friday that the UK was under pressure as it didn’t have enough doses for second vaccine shots.
“You can’t be playing like this, a bit of blackmail, just because you hurried to get people vaccinated with a first shot, and now you’re a bit handicapped because you don’t have the second one,” he said.
He added: “We must find a cooperative relationship with the United Kingdom so that AstraZeneca fulfils its commitments signed with the European Union and that everyone can find their way around.
“I hope we are going to come to an agreement, it would be absurd to have a vaccine war between the UK and Europe.”
So far almost 29 million people in the UK have received a first does of the coronavirus vaccine, according to official data. However, only 2.7 million people have had the second jab.
“You are vaccinated when you have had both doses,” Le Drian said. “Today there are as many people vaccinated with both in France as the United Kingdom.
It comes amid a row about an AstraZeneca (AZN.L) plant in the Netherlands. UK prime minister Boris Johnson has said that the hub is part of the British vaccine supply chain, however, the EU has warned it would ban exports to the UK unless pharmaceutical firms make good on their deliveries to the bloc.
On Thursday, French president Emmanuel Macron also lashed out at AstraZeneca for not meeting its commitments to the EU, while European Commission (EC) chief Ursula von der Leyen told the British-Swedish drug firm it must “honour” its EU contract before exporting elsewhere in the world.
"I think it is clear that first of all the company has to catch up," von der Leyen told a news conference after the virtual leaders' summit.
"It has to honour the contract it has with European member states before it can engage again in exporting vaccines. "We want to explain to our European citizens that they can get their fair share,” she said.
The EU is expecting to receive around 30 million AstraZeneca doses by the end of March, less than a third of what it was hoping for.
WATCH: European stock markets shrug off rising Covid-19 cases
Robert Jenrick, UK communities secretary, warned against “damaging” export bans on Friday, adding that the government has absolute confidence in its supply of vaccine
The cabinet minister said all adults are on track to receive a first dose by the end of July.
“We’re getting our vaccines from multiple manufacturers, from all over the world with complex international supply chains – none of them are reliant on any one factory or any one country,” he told Good Morning Britain.
“Anyone who has an appointment for a jab, either their first one or second one, there is no need to worry – those appointments will be honoured.”
Countries across Europe are currently suffering from a third wave of rising COVID-19 cases.
France extended their lockdown to three additional regions – the Nievre, Rhone and Aube areas – with the government announcing that the newest wave has a higher number of younger people being admitted to hospitals.
German chancellor Angela Merkel also signalled that she would be declaring France a “high-risk COVID area.”
Overnight, French president Macron said that new measures to contain the outbreak might be needed in the coming weeks, adding that “the next few weeks will be tough.”
In Poland, it was announced that nurseries and preschools would close, as the country reported a fresh record of 34,151 new cases.
Elsewhere, the Finnish government has submitted a proposal that would see temporary restrictions on movement in the worst-hit areas for 3 weeks, with people only able to leave their homes for essential reasons or outdoor recreation.
WATCH: Key moments in the 12 months since the UK’s first lockdown