1. Latest on Europe's pandemic

    Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (L), Danish PM Mette Frederiksen (R) and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (C) in Israeli gym, 4 Mar 21
    Image caption: The leaders of Austria (L) and Denmark (R) visited a reopened Israeli gym with PM Benjamin Netanyahu (C)
    • Denmark has followed France and Germany in approving the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for over-65s, after a large study in Scotland found it to be very effective across all age groups
    • Denmark has also teamed up with Austria and Israel to develop future coronavirus vaccines, aware of the risk posed by new virus mutations. The countries’ leaders discussed this co-operation in Israel on Thursday. The EU does not object to the initiative, though France insists that the joint EU strategy is the one to follow. The slow vaccine rollout in the EU has been much criticised
    • The EU's internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, told the news website Politico that “it’s fine” for EU countries to use the Chinese and Russian vaccines if they wish to. The EU’s European Medicines Agency has not approved them yet. Commissioner Breton said those vaccine deliveries – to Hungary, for example – were small, whereas millions of doses were needed EU-wide. He is seeking new facilities in the EU to ramp up vaccine production
    • The French region closest to the UK – Pas-de-Calais – is introducing a weekend lockdown because of a surge in infections there. France is generally lockdown-free, apart from Dunkirk – just east of Calais – and the Nice area in the south. But French bars, restaurants and leisure venues remain closed and there is a nightly curfew. By the summer France aims to have vaccinated two-thirds of its adult population – 30m people
    • Germany remains under lockdown and there is concern that only two of the 16 German states have got the seven-day infection rate below the official target of 50 per 100,000 people.
  2. What's happening in Europe?

    A new Covid test centre in Saarbrucken, near the French border, 2 Mar 21
    Image caption: A new Covid test centre in Saarbrucken, near the French border
    • France has changed its stance on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – now it can be given to people with underlying health conditions in the 65-74 age group. Earlier France had restricted its use, saying there was not enough data from trials in older age groups. France now has 1.1m doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but by Saturday just 273,000 people had received that jab, French LCI news reports
    • Germany is still not giving the AstraZeneca jab to the over-65s, but such a move is now under discussion. Germany also has large stocks of that vaccine waiting to be used
    • German border police are now carrying out spot checks on people entering from the French Moselle region. They must have proof of a negative Covid test no more than 48 hours old. About 16,000 Moselle residents commute to Germany daily. They face having to get tested three times a week – it takes time and there is a fee in Germany, unlike in France. Germany is worried about the Brazil variant – there have been many cases of it in Moselle
    • Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has announced plans to develop Covid vaccines with Denmark and Israel. The countries’ leaders are to meet in Israel on Thursday. Mr Kurz said the EU’s European Medicines Agency (EMA) was too slow to approve vaccines, and it was vital to be prepared for further mutations of the virus
    • Slovakia – an EU member like its neighbour Hungary – is following Hungary’s example by accepting the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. Slovakia says it has just received the first batch of what will be two million doses. Yet the EMA has not yet approved Sputnik V.
  3. Austria interested in Russian vaccine

    Sputnik V vaccine
    Image caption: The Sputnik V vaccine is now going to many countries

    Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has discussed possible deliveries of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine to Austria, in a phone call with President Vladimir Putin.

    Sputnik V has not been authorised by the EU’s European Medicines Agency, and Mr Kurz made it clear that such approval would be required first.

    This month the respected medical journal The Lancet published results showing Sputnik V to be safe and over 90% effective against Covid-19.

    Austrian specialists might in future co-produce Sputnik V with Russia, Mr Kurz said.

    Russia is reported to be facing some production difficulties with Sputnik V, which is now in high demand worldwide. In the EU, only Hungary is using the Sputnik V jab. But tiny San Marino – not in the EU – has also taken delivery of it.

  4. Germany to halt border travel: Latest from around Europe

    Snow-covered ski buses are pictured at the Gerlosplatte near Gerlos in Tyrol, Austria on February 4, 2021
    Image caption: Austria has stopped short of locking down its Tyrol region

    Germany is to ban travel from Austria’s Tyrol region as well as Czech border areas from Sunday without a negative test, but commercial links will continue. Austrian police halted travel out of the Tyrol last night without a negative test, because of a surge in cases of the South African coronavirus variant. But Czech MPs have refused to back an extension of a state of emergency so it will end at midnight on Sunday.

    France is worried about an outbreak of South African and Brazilian variants in the north-east Moselle region. Health minister Olivier Véran says the situation is worrying and he’s heading there today.

    Poland is reopening swimming pools and ski slopes today and allowing hotels, cinemas and theatres to start up again at 50% capacity. Authorities already reopened museums and shopping centres on 1 February and they want to give the new relaxation two weeks to assess its effect. Another 7,008 infections were reported yesterday.

    Dutch policing unions are worried about a potential surge of skaters this weekend on the country’s frozen lakes and canals. Crowds were reported around some lakes yesterday – attracted by the big freeze - and some 500 people were told to leave a park in the eastern city of Nijmegen.

    But Portugal’s state of emergency is to stay until 1 March. And the lockdown will carry on at least until the end of next month, according to Prime Minister António Costa. He says the situation is extremely serious and it’s "premature" to talk about easing restrictions.

  5. Portugal gets urgent aid from Austria and Germany

    Intensive care ward in Cascais, Portugal, 27 Jan 21
    Image caption: Portugal has very few intensive care beds left

    Germany and Austria are planning to give medical help to Portugal, which is being hit severely by the third coronavirus wave.

    Austria will treat intensive care patients, to be flown from Portugal, to help ease the pressure on Portuguese hospitals.

    Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said providing such help “is a rule of European solidarity”.

    Germany plans to fly an army medical team of 27 doctors and other specialists to Portugal, along with field hospital beds and ventilators.

    Portugal requested that help because it is struggling with shortages of intensive care beds and medical staff.

    In January alone Portugal’s Covid deaths totalled 5,576, according to official data – that’s nearly half the country’s total so far in the pandemic.

    Portugal is under a tight lockdown, including a general ban on travel abroad.

    The dramatic surge in cases has been blamed on an easing of rules at Christmas and on the highly contagious British variant.

  6. Austria makes FFP2 masks compulsory

    Bethany Bell

    BBC News, Vienna

    Vienna woman shopping in FFP2 mask
    Image caption: Shoppers now have to wear high-grade masks in Austria

    In Austria people must now wear air-filtering FFP2 masks in shops and on public transport.

    The high-grade masks are also required in workplaces where social distancing can’t be maintained, and for visits to doctors or to government offices.

    The move comes amid concerns about the spread of more infectious strains of coronavirus. Unlike fabric and surgical masks, which chiefly protect other people from droplets, FFP2 masks also provide more protection for the wearer.

    Initially, a number of supermarkets are handing them out for free. Over the long term, the masks will be sold at cost, with plans to price them at about 59 cents.

    People who fail to wear an FFP2 mask face a €25 (£22) fine. Those who are unable to wear them for medical reasons will have to carry a doctor’s note. The masks have been obligatory in ski lifts since 24 December.

    It comes as the required social distance in Austria has been doubled from one metre to two.

  7. 'Emergency brake' for Austria

    A man, wearing a protective face mask, stands next to a closed cafe in Vienna, Austria, November 17, 2020

    A second national coronavirus lockdown has come into effect in Austria, after earlier measures failed to contain rising infections. It will last until at least 6 December.

    Schools and all non-essential shops have closed, and people are only allowed out for specific purposes - such as shopping for essential supplies, exercise, and if they have to travel for work.

    At more than 1,000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, Austria currently has one of the worst rates of cases in Europe.

    Health Minister Rudolf Anschober described the lockdown as an "emergency brake", saying it was needed to protect intensive care capacity.