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‘We feel like animals’: Border testing highlights broader tensions in EU’s COVID strategy | World News

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French residents who travel to Germany daily for work have reacted angrily after being told they must now get COVID tests every two days in order to cross the border. 

Germany introduced the measure earlier this week as infection rates remained high in the French border region of Moselle – but locals say it destroys the EU’s principle of free movement.

Sky News spoke to Laura Jarych, who lives in France but works in a German hotel just two minutes drive away. For decades she has made her journey uninterrupted – but the morning we meet she’s had to queue in a line of vehicles for her test. She is furious.

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Germany has placed stricter measures on people crossing over from the French department of Moselle
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Germany has placed stricter measures on people crossing over from the French department of Moselle

“I am angry, very angry,” Laura tells us. “And I think that the 20,000 people who are switching between the two countries in this area feel the same thing.

“We feel like animals because you go inside a drive-in with the car and it’s one after the other and the cars are waiting a long time and it just ‘come, make the test and pass’.”

The inconvenience is one thing, but principle is another. When we talk to people waiting in their cars at the tented testing area, one man says: “It’s a very bad feeling because the idea of Europe, free borders, is away now. I feel sad.”

Another woman tell us: “It’s a terrible situation as it’s not possible to come every two days and make a test.

“I’m a German person and I’m living in France. It’s like a regime – I can’t live free and I can’t go where I want to go.

“It’s 10 steps back.”

We were only able to find one person in the queue who said she understood and accepted the situation, telling us: “It’s OK for me, I work for a company in Germany, I live in France. It’s not really that bad.”

She admitted that she did feel frustrated by the measure but said it posed “another chance to beat this horrible virus“.

The issue, however, highlights broader tensions over the EU’s strategy against coronavirus – especially with vaccinations.

Coordinated centrally by the European Commission, the vaccine rollout has not been Brussels’ finest hour. Officials admit approvals and orders were too slow and production difficulties underestimated.

The AstraZeneca vaccine was given the green light across the EU more than a month ago – but France and Germany both restricted recipients to the under-65s because of a lack of data.

There has since been strong public unease about its safety and is something that might not be erased despite both countries now offering the AstraZeneca jab to older people. Germany confirmed that decision today.

“I think it’s a problem of perception for a lot of people,” Germany immunologist Carsten Watzl told me.

“So when it was first licensed, the efficacy was only given 60% and then there was this story that in South Africa that it was not at all efficient to prevent infections with the variant or the mutant that is found there.

“All this together has created some negative PR for this vaccine.”

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (right) has met with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (left) to procure more vaccines
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Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (right) has met with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (left) to procure more vaccines

France, Germany and other EU nations desperately need many more vaccines – and frustration with the rollout has prompted several countries to break away.

Today, the leaders of Denmark and Austria travelled to Israel to try and strike deals for supplies to their own nations. It’s a move that has promoted some criticism at home.

Danish MEP Margrete Aucken, a member of the European Green Party, said that while this wasn’t necessarily a failure of the EU, it showed “some of the weaknesses in the EU construction” that more hasn’t been done together for the common goal.

“But I think they are improving this year,” Ms Aucken added. “I really dislike that some member states are showing ‘we can do best ourselves’.

“None of us are best when we’re alone. None of us.”

Hungary's PM Viktor Orban has received the Chinese vaccine
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Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban has received the Chinese vaccine

However, Denmark and Austria are not alone in seeking outside help: the Hungarian prime minister was filmed recently getting a Chinese vaccine after getting frustrated with the EU’s programme.

Hundreds of thousands of Russia’s Sputnik V jabs have also been delivered to Slovakia, despite not being approved by the European Medicines Agency.

The vaccine watchdog has only just begun its review of Sputnik V, according to a statement released on Thursday.

It’s clear the COVID crisis has exposed tensions between the idea of European cohesion and national self-interest.

The EU as a body hasn’t met all the needs of its citizens. Now there are questions not just about the health of the population but the health of the union itself.

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Myanmar junta releases over 23,000 prisoners but fate of detained protesters unknown | World News

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Myanmar’s junta has claimed to have pardoned and released more than 23,000 prisoners – but it is not known if the figure includes pro-democracy activists detained in the wake of February’s coup.

The release was announced to mark the new year holiday.

State broadcaster MRTV said Myanmar‘s military leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing pardoned the 23,047 prisoners, including 137 foreigners who will be deported.

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He also reduced sentences for others.

Early prisoner releases are customary during major holidays, but this is the second time the ruling junta has done so since it ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, triggering daily protests, arrests and deaths by security forces.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests, government forces have killed at least 726 protesters and bystanders since the takeover.

The group says 2,728 people, including Ms Suu Kyi, are in detention.

Following the release of more than 23,000 convicts to mark Union Day on 12 February, there were reports on social media that some were recruited by the authorities to carry out violence at night in residential areas to spread panic.

Heavy clashes erupted during demonstrations in Yangon on Sunday 28 March
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Heavy clashes erupted during demonstrations in Yangon on Sunday 28 March

Some areas responded by setting up their own neighbourhood watch groups.

The military said it staged the coup because a November election won by Ms Suu Kyi’s party was rigged – an assertion dismissed by the election commission.

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COVID-19: Pandemic has now killed three million across the world – as countries see surge in cases | World News

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The global death toll from coronavirus has topped three million people amid repeated setbacks in the worldwide vaccination campaign and a deepening crisis in places such as Brazil, India and France.

The number of lives lost, as compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the US, is about equal to the population of Kyiv, Ukraine; Caracas, Venezuela; or metropolitan Lisbon, Portugal.

It is bigger than Chicago (2.7 million) and equivalent to Philadelphia and Dallas combined.

However, the true number is believed to be significantly higher because of possible government concealment and the many cases overlooked in the early stages of the outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019.

Worldwide, COVID-19 deaths are on the rise again, running at around 12,000 per day on average, and new cases are climbing too, eclipsing 700,000 a day.

“This is not the situation we want to be in 16 months into a pandemic, where we have proven control measures,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, one of the World Health Organisation’s leaders on COVID-19.

In Brazil, where deaths are running at about 3,000 per day, accounting for one-quarter of the lives lost worldwide in recent weeks, the crisis has been likened to a “raging inferno” by one WHO official.

A more contagious variant of the virus has been rampaging across the country.

Meanwhile, problems that India had overcome last year are coming back to haunt health officials.

Recent religious event in India could be behind the surge in cases, experts suggest
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Recent religious event in India could be behind the surge in cases, experts suggest

Only 178 ventilators were free on Wednesday afternoon in New Delhi, a city of 29 million, where 13,000 new infections were reported the previous day.

The challenges facing India reverberate beyond its borders since the country is the biggest supplier of shots to Covax, the UN-sponsored program to distribute vaccines to poorer parts of the world.

Last month, India said it would suspend vaccine exports until the virus’s spread inside the country slows.

The WHO recently described the supply situation as precarious.

Up to 60 countries might not receive any more jabs until June, by one estimate.

To date, Covax has delivered about 40 million doses to more than 100 countries, enough to cover barely 0.25% of the world’s population.

Globally, about 87% of the 700 million doses dispensed have been given out in rich countries.

While one in four people in wealthy nations have received a vaccine, in poor countries the figure is one in more than 500.

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Elon Musk’s SpaceX wins $2.9bn NASA contract to send humans to the moon | Science & Tech News

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Elon Musk’s private space company SpaceX has won a $2.9bn (£2.1bn) NASA contract to build a spacecraft to put humans on the moon.

The tech billionaire’s firm was chosen ahead of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and defence contractor Dynetics Inc.

Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator, said at a video conference: “We should accomplish the next landing as soon as possible. This is an incredible time to be involved in human exploration, for all humanity.”

SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk
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SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk wants to take humans to Mars

SpaceX will need to complete a test flight “to fully check out all systems with a landing on the lunar surface prior to our formal demonstration mission”, NASA official Lisa Watson-Morgan told reporters.

Mr Musk is one of the world’s richest people thanks to his 22% stake in electric car maker Tesla, now the world’s most valuable vehicle manufacturer.

His publicly stated aim is to put humans on Mars – but so far, SpaceX has mainly been used to launch satellites for his Starlink internet venture, and other satellites and space cargo.

The SpaceX programme has suffered considerable teething problems, with another failed landing for its prototype Starship spacecraft last month.

The previous three exploded at touchdown or shortly afterwards.

Those setbacks do not appear to have affected investors’ confidence in his schemes, however, as SpaceX said on Wednesday it had raised about $1.16bn (£838m) in equity financing.

SpaceX lost another Starship, here seen launching in thick fog, in a botched landing on Tuesday
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SpaceX lost another Starship, here seen launching in thick fog, in a botched landing

NASA’s plan is get back to the moon and using that as a platform to send astronauts to Mars and it is looking to team up with private companies that share its vision for space exploration.

In December, NASA announced 18 astronauts who could be involved in plans to get back to the moon by 2024.

Jeff Bezos. Pic: AP
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NASA’s decision is a setback for Jeff Bezos. Pic: AP

It’s a setback for Mr Bezos, a lifelong space enthusiast and one of the world’s richest people, who is more focused on his space venture after deciding to step down as Amazon CEO.

The NASA deal was seen as a way for Blue Origin to establish itself as a desired partner for NASA, and also putting the venture on the road to turning a profit.

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