The European Union has refined its rules on the export of COVID-19 vaccines, giving it a clearer right to block shipments to countries such as the UK with higher inoculation rates and to those not exporting their own vaccine doses.
The European Commission, which oversees trade policy for the 27 EU members, set out a proposal expanding existing measures that seek to ensure planned exports by drug makers do not threaten already reduced EU supply.
The granting of export licences will be based on reciprocity and "proportionality" - the epidemiological situation, vaccination rate and access to vaccines in the destination country.
EU officials say export restrictions could also kick in if companies do respect quarterly contracts but backload supplies at the end of the period.
EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis said the new rules did not create a detailed algorithm on authorisations and requests would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
The scheme will also widen the net to include 17 neighbouring countries including Israel, Norway and Switzerland.
Previously exempted, exports to these countries will also need authorisation.
The proposal is set to be a topic of discussion on Thursday at an online summit of EU leaders, whose countries are struggling with a third wave of infections that has prompted harder lockdowns amid a slow rollout of vaccines.
EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the situation in many EU countries was "alarming," with increasing cases in 19 EU members and rising fatalities in eight.
While France, Germany and Italy broadly support tighter export curbs on those who do not reciprocate, countries including the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland are more cautious about cutting off the UK.
The bloc said it had exported 43 million doses to 33 countries since the end of January, including 10.9 million to the UK.
It has granted 380 export requests and only one was blocked - from Italy to Australia.
The EU has so far authorised four COVID-19 vaccines.
AstraZeneca doses were supposed to be the vaccination for the masses but deliveries have and will be far lower than initially indicated.
Australian Associated Press