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Eyeing Reelection Bid, Macron Looks to Repair French Economy

President Emmanuel Macron’s plans for bringing France out of the pandemic aren’t just about resuscitating long-closed restaurants, boutiques and museums. They are also about preparing his possible campaign for a second term.A year before the next presidential election, Macron is focusing on saving jobs and reviving the pandemic-battered French economy as his country inches out of its third partial lockdown.The centrist president’s ability to meet the challenge will be significant for his political future and for France — which is among the world’s worst-hit nations with the fourth-highest number of reported COVID-19 cases and the eighth-highest death toll at more than 106,000.While he has not officially declared his candidacy, Macron has made comments suggesting he intends to seek reelection. And he has pushed recent legislation on issues that potential rivals on the right and the left hold dear, from security to climate change.Pollsters suggest Macron, who four years ago became the youngest president in French history, has a good chance of winning the presidency again in 2022 despite his government’s oft-criticized management of the pandemic and earlier challenges to his policies, from activists protesting what they see as social and economic injustice to unions angry over retirement reforms.An Existential Choice? France’s Communist Party Eyes Presidential Race Leader Fabien Roussel says he wants to offer a program of hope  The coronavirus reopening strategy Macron unveiled this month calls for most restrictions on public life to be lifted June 30, when half of France’s population is expected to have received at least one vaccine shot. With up to 3 million people in France getting vaccinated each week, the government plans to allow outdoor areas of restaurants and cafes, as well as museums and nonessential shops, to resume operating on May 19.In an interview with French media, Macron said he would visit France’s regions over the summer “to feel the pulse of the country” and to engage with people in a mass consultation aimed at “turning the page of that moment in the nation’s life.”“No individual destiny is worthwhile without a collective project,” he said, giving the latest hint about a potential reelection bid.At the moment, all opinion polls show Macron and Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader he beat in a presidential runoff election in 2017, again reaching the runoff next year. The polls also forecast that Macron would defeat National Rally leader Le Pen again, though by a smaller margin.Macron, 43, a former economy minister under his predecessor, Socialist President Francois Hollande, has characterized his policies as transcending traditional left-right divides. He was elected on a promise to make the French economy more competitive while preserving the country’s welfare system.Macron’s government includes major figures previously belonging to conservative party The Republicans, including his prime minister and the finance and interior ministers.French politics expert Luc Rouban, a senior researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research. said the president’s immediate goal “is to show he is still able to continue implementing his project, which has more or less been stopped by the health crisis.”Macron’s recent priorities demonstrate he also is trying to attract voters from the moderate right and the moderate left, the same ones who helped him win the first time, Rouban said.Macron is “undermining the field of The Republicans by strengthening security laws, taking measures to protect the French against terrorism, reinforcing security also in urban areas, increasing police and justice staff,” he said.At the same time, Macron needs to show he is addressing inequality, economic mobility and other social justice issues that are important to France’s left wing, Rouban said.Last month, the president decided to do away with France’s elite graduate school for future leaders, the Ecole Nationale d’Administration. He said his alma mater would be replaced with a more egalitarian institution.In the French newspapers interview, Macron also praised the country’s benefits for low-income workers, who since 2019 have received up to 100 additional euros ($120) per month.Macron’s public image appears to have partially recovered from drubbing it took at the height of the “yellow vest” movement, which started in late 2018 to oppose a fuel tax and grew into a weekly anti-government protest targeting alleged social and economic injustice. At the time, critics angry over Macron eliminating a wealth tax labeled him the “president of the rich.”But Macron’s popularity in recent months has remained relatively stable, with an approval rating between 30% and 46%, higher than his predecessors Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy had after four years in office.Frédéric Dabi, deputy director-general of the polling organization IFOP, said Macron’s support appears “very solid.” Polls show his policies are satisfying most of his 2017 supporters, and 30% to 50% of voters from the traditional right- and left-wing parties.During the virus crisis, Macron applied a “whatever it takes” strategy based on state intervention to save jobs and businesses, including a massive partial unemployment program and subsidized child care leave. The government also approved a two-year 100 billion-euro ($120 billion) rescue plan to revive the economy.Macron promised there would be no tax increases to repay the debt, which soared last year to 115.7% of gross domestic product.Despite strong opposition from unions about planned changes to the pension system and unemployment benefits, he has pledged to keep reforming “until the last quarter of hour” of his five-year term, which runs out in May 2022.Recent polls show no strong rival emerging so far from mainstream French parties amid divisions on both the right and the left. But at this stage, the field remains wide open.As Macron himself proved in 2017, when he shot from a wild-card candidate to the presidency in less than four months, anything could happen in the next year.

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Last Wild Macaw in Rio is Lonely and Looking for Love

Some have claimed she’s indulging a forbidden romance. More likely, loneliness compels her to seek company at Rio de Janeiro’s zoo. Either way, a blue-and-yellow macaw that zookeepers named Juliet is believed to be the only wild bird of its kind left in the Brazilian city where the birds once flew far and wide.Almost every morning for the last two decades, Juliet has appeared. She swoops onto the zoo enclosure where macaws are kept and, through its fence, engages in grooming behavior that looks like conjugal canoodling. Sometimes she just sits, relishing the presence of others. She is quieter — shier? more coy? — than her squawking chums. Blue-and-yellow macaws live to be about 35 years old and Juliet — no spring chicken — should have found a lifelong mate years ago, according to Neiva Guedes, president of the Hyacinth Macaw Institute, an environmental group. But Juliet hasn’t coupled, built a nest or had chicks, so at most she’s “still just dating.”A blue-and-yellow macaw that zookeepers named Juliet flies outside the enclosure where macaws are kept at BioParque, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, May 5, 2021.“They’re social birds, and that means they don’t like to live alone, whether in nature or captivity. They need company,” said Guedes, who also coordinates a project that researches macaws in urban settings. Juliet “very probably feels lonely, and for that reason goes to the enclosure to communicate and interact.”Aside from Juliet, the last sighting of a blue-and-yellow macaw flying free in Rio was in 1818 by an Austrian naturalist, according to Marcelo Rheingantz, a biologist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and there are no other types of macaws in the city.  The lovebirds featured in the 2011 film “Rio″ are Spix’s macaws, which are native to a different region of Brazil and possibly extinct in the wild.Being boisterous with brilliant plumage helps macaws find each other in dense forest, but also makes them easier targets for hunters and animal traffickers. They’re often seen in other Brazilian states and across the Amazon, and it is suspected Juliet escaped from captivity.Biologists at BioParque aren’t sure if Juliet’s nuzzling is limited to one caged Romeo, or a few of them. They’re not even certain Juliet is female; macaw gender is near impossible to determine by sight, and requires either genetic testing of feathers or blood, or examination of the gonads.Either would be interference merely to satisfy human curiosity with no scientific end, biologist Angelita Capobianco said inside the enclosure. Nor would they consider confining Juliet, who often soars overhead and appears well-nourished.A blue-and-yellow macaw that zookeepers have named Juliet, left, grooms with a captive macaw at BioParque, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, May 5, 2021.“We don’t want to project human feelings. I look at the animal, and see an animal at ease,” Capobianco said, noting Juliet has never exhibited behavior to indicate disturbance, such as insistently pecking at the fence.“Who am I to decide it should only stay here? I won’t. It comes and goes, and its feathers are beautiful.”After more than a year of COVID-19 quarantine and travel bans, the appeal of roaming without restriction is evident to humankind. Macaws are used to flying great distances of more than 30 kilometers a day, Guedes said.Last year, BioParque gave its macaws more space: a 1,000-square-meter aviary where they fly beside green parrots and golden parakeets to compose an aerial, technicolor swirl. It’s a massive upgrade from prior enclosures that were roughly 9 square meters.BioParque reopened to the public in March, after privatization of Rio’s dilapidated zoo and almost 17 months of renovations.BioParque aims to feature species associated with research programs at universities and institutes. One such initiative is Refauna, which reintroduces species into protected areas with an eye on rebuilding ecosystems, and is participating with BioParque to start breeding blue-and-yellow macaws.The plan is for parents to raise some 20 chicks that will receive training on forest food sources, the peril of predators and avoidance of power lines. Then the youngsters will be released into Rio’s immense Tijuca Forest National Park, where Juliet has been sighted and is thought to sleep each night.“Their role could be important in terms of ecosystem and reforestation. It’s a big animal with big beak that can crack the biggest seeds, and not all birds can,” said Rheingantz, the university biologist, who is also Refauna’s technical coordinator. “The idea is for it to start dispersing those seeds, complementing forest animals that can’t.”After some pandemic-induced delays, the project has slowly restarted and Rheingantz expects to release blue-and-yellow macaws into Tijuca park toward the end of 2022.After two decades of relative solitude, Juliet will then have the chance to fly with friends. Neves said Juliet could teach them how to navigate the forest, or even find a love of her own.

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Sicilian Judge Killed by Mafia Takes Step to Sainthood

An Italian judge murdered by the mafia in Sicily takes a step towards sainthood Sunday, almost three decades after being declared a martyr by pope John Paul II.The beatification of Rosario Livatino will take place in the cathedral in Agrigento, the Sicilian town near where he was gunned down aged 38 on September 21, 1990.In a preface to a new book about the judge, Pope Francis hailed him as a “righteous man who knew he did not deserve that unjust death”.An undated photo obtained from Italian news agency Ansa shows Italian judge Rosario Livatino.Livatino, who prayed in church every day before going to court, had been involved in a mass trial against mafioso and was about to launch a new case when he died.He was found in a ditch by the roadside a few miles from his home. He had refused armed protection.Many of his notes were later found to be marked STD, for “sub tutela Dei”, a Latin invocation meaning “under the protection of God” which judges of the Middle Ages used before taking official decisions.The notes also showed he asked God’s forgiveness for the risks his work exposed his parents to, once he learned that the bosses of the Cosa Nostra had him in their sights.When John Paul II visited Livatino’s parents in 1993, he said the judge was “a martyr for justice and indirectly for the faith”.Under Church law, if martyrdom is established, then beatification — the penultimate accolade before canonization — moves ahead quickly without the proof of miracles required of other candidates for sainthood.The two mafia members who killed Livatino, identified by a man who drove past at the moment of the crime, were given life sentences.’Blasphemous’Livatino was one of the first investigating magistrates in Italy who moved to seize assets belonging to the mafia, according to Luigi Ciotti, a priest known for his own fight against organized crime.”He understood that would lead to a weakening of the clans, their loss of control and also of social control,” Ciotti wrote in another biography of the murdered judge.Today, a cooperative of young people bears Livatino’s name and cultivates land confiscated from the Sicilian mafia.Less than two years after Livatino’s death, anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were also murdered by the mob. Since he was elected pope in 2013, Francis has spoken out repeatedly against organized crime groups. In an open-air mass in Sicily in September 2018, during a trip to honor a priest killed by the mafia 25 years earlier, the Argentine pontiff condemned those who belong to the mafia as “blasphemous”.”You can’t believe in God and belong to the mafia,” he said.His impassioned plea echoed the words of John Paul II who, during his May 1993 trip to the island, had also called on mobsters to abandon crime, and urged Sicilians to revolt against the mafia. 

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Scottish Nationalists Vow Independence Vote After Election Win

Pro-independence parties won a majority in Scotland’s parliament on Saturday, paving the way to a high-stakes political, legal and constitutional battle with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the future of the United Kingdom.Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the result meant she would push ahead with plans for a second independence referendum once the COVID-19 pandemic was over, adding that it would be absurd and outrageous if Johnson were to try to ignore the democratic will of the people.”There is simply no democratic justification whatsoever for Boris Johnson, or indeed for anyone else, seeking to block the right of the people of Scotland to choose our own future,” Sturgeon said.”It is the will of the country,” she added after her Scottish National Party (SNP) was returned for a fourth consecutive term in office.The British government argues Johnson must give approval for any referendum and he has repeatedly made clear he would refuse. He has said it would be irresponsible to hold one now, pointing out that Scots had backed staying in the United Kingdom in a “once in a generation” poll in 2014.The election outcome is likely to be a bitter clash between the Scottish government in Edinburgh and Johnson’s United Kingdom-wide administration in London, with Scotland’s 314-year union with England and Wales at stake.The nationalists argue that they have democratic authority on their side; the British government says the law is on its side. It is likely the final decision on a referendum will be settled in the courts.’Irresponsible and reckless'”I think a referendum in the current context is irresponsible and reckless,” Johnson told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.Alister Jack, the U.K. government’s Scotland minister, said dealing with the coronavirus crisis and the vaccine rollout should be the priority.”We must not allow ourselves to be distracted — COVID recovery must be the sole priority of Scotland’s two governments,” he said.FILE – The Scotland-England border is shown at Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Scotland, May 4, 2021.The SNP had been hopeful of winning an outright majority, which would have strengthened its call for a secession vote, but it looked set to fall one seat short of the 65 required in the 129-seat Scottish parliament, partly because of an electoral system that helps smaller parties.Pro-union supporters argue that the SNP’s failure to get a majority has made it easier for Johnson to rebut its argument that it has a mandate for a referendum.However, the Scottish Greens, who have promised to support a referendum, picked up eight seats, meaning overall there will be a comfortable pro-independence majority in the Scottish assembly.Divided about plebisciteScottish politics has been diverging from other parts of the United Kingdom for some time, but Scots remain divided over holding another independence plebiscite.However, Britain’s exit from the European Union,  opposed by a majority of Scots; a perception that Sturgeon’s government has handled the COVID-19 crisis well; and antipathy to Johnson’s Conservative government in London have all bolstered support for the independence movement.Scots voted 55%-45% in 2014 to remain part of the United Kingdom, and polls suggest a second referendum would be too close to call.Sturgeon said her first task was dealing with the pandemic and the SNP has indicated that a referendum is unlikely until 2023. But she said any legal challenge by Johnson’s government to a vote would show a total disregard for Scottish democracy.”The absurdity and outrageous nature of a Westminster government potentially going to court to overturn Scottish democracy, I can’t think of a more colorful argument for Scottish independence than that myself,” she said.

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Two Avalanches in French Alps Kill Seven

Seven people died Saturday in two avalanches in the French Alps, according to authorities who had warned Friday of the instability of the snowpack because of warmer temperatures.The first fatal slide was triggered late in the morning in the town of Valloire in the sector of the Col du Galibier at 2,642 meters above sea level. Four people, aged 42 to 76 and from the surroundings of Grenoble, were killed.Two groups of hikers, composed of three and two people, were swept away and only one of them survived, found in good health by the emergency services.Six soldiers from the High Mountain Gendarmerie Platoon (PGHM), two helicopters and two avalanche dogs had been hired to search for the victims.The second avalanche occurred around 2 p.m. in the Mont Pourri sector, which rises to 3,779 meters in the Vanoise massif, on the other side of the department. Three people died, according to the prefecture.The authorities had warned Friday that the risk of avalanches was “particularly high” this weekend, as temperatures have softened after heavy snowfall on the mountains in recent days.”With weather like today’s, it’s tempting to go out in the mountains, but it’s also extremely tricky,” Valloire Mayor Jean-Pierre Rougeaux told AFP by phone.Five people had already died Monday in two avalanches in Isère and in the Hautes-Alpes.Since the start of the 2020-21 season, before the avalanches on Saturday, 28 people had already died in similar conditions, according to the National Association for the Study of Snow and Avalanches (Anena), which publishes each year of accident statistics.

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Archaeologists Discover Remains of 9 Neanderthals Near Rome

Italian archaeologists have uncovered the fossilized remains of nine Neanderthals in a cave near Rome, shedding new light on how the Italian peninsula was populated and under what environmental conditions.The Italian Culture Ministry announced the discovery Saturday, saying it had confirmed that the Guattari Cave in San Felice Circeo was “one of the most significant places in the world for the history of Neanderthals.” A Neanderthal skull was discovered in the cave in 1939.The fossilized bones include skulls, skull fragments, two teeth and other bone fragments. The oldest remains date from between 100,000 and 90,000 years ago, while the other eight Neanderthals are believed to date from 50,000 to 68,000 years ago, the Culture Ministry said in a statement.The excavations, begun in 2019, involved a part of the cave that hadn’t yet been explored, including a lake first noted by the anthropologist Alberto Carlo Blanc, who is credited with the 1939 Neanderthal skull discovery.Culture Minister Dario Franceschini called the finding “an extraordinary discovery that will be the talk of the world.”Anthropologist Mauro Rubini said the large number of remains suggested a significant population of Neanderthals, “the first human society of which we can speak.”Archaeologists said the cave had perfectly preserved the environment of 50,000 years ago. They noted that fossilized animal remains found in the cave — elephant, rhinoceros and giant deer, among others — shed light on the flora and fauna of the area and its climactic history.

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EU Agrees Potential 1.8 Billion-Dose Purchase of Pfizer Vaccine

The European Union cemented its support for Pfizer-BioNTech and its novel COVID-19 vaccine technology Saturday by agreeing to a massive contract extension for a potential 1.8 billion doses through 2023.EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that her office “has just approved a contract for a guaranteed 900 million doses” with the same amount of doses as a future option.The new contract, which has the unanimous backing of the EU member states, will entail not only the production of the vaccines, but also making sure that all the essential components should be sourced from the EU.The European Commission currently has a portfolio of 2.6 billion doses from half a dozen companies. “Other contracts and other vaccine technologies will follow,” von der Leyen said in a Twitter message.Pfizer-BioNTech had an initial contract of 600 million doses with the EU.Saturday’s announcement also underscores the confidence the EU has shown in the technology used for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is different from that behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.The active ingredient in the Pfizer-BioNTech shot is messenger RNA, or mRNA, which contains the instructions for human cells to construct a harmless piece of the coronavirus called the spike protein. The human immune system recognizes the spike protein as foreign, allowing it to mount a response against the virus upon infection.The announcement of the huge contract extension comes as the European Union is looking for ways to meet the challenges of necessary booster shots, possible new variants and a drive to vaccinate children and teenagers.America’s Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech have already said that they would provide the EU with an extra 50 million doses in the 2nd quarter of this year, making up for faltering deliveries of AstraZeneca.In contrast to the oft-criticized Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca, von der Leyen has said that Pfizer-BioNTech is a reliable partner that delivers on its commitments.Two weeks ago, the EU launched legal proceedings against AstraZeneca for failing to respect the terms of its contract with the 27-nation bloc.The AstraZeneca vaccine had been central to Europe’s immunization campaign, and a linchpin in the global strategy to get vaccines to poorer countries. But the slow pace of deliveries has frustrated the Europeans and they have held the company responsible for partly delaying their vaccine rollout.So far, von der Leyen said, the EU has made some 200 million doses available to its 450 million citizens while almost as many have been exported from the bloc.
 

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In the French Language, Steps Forward and Back for Women

The fight to make the French language kinder to women took steps forward, and back, this week.
 
Warning that the well-being of France and its future are at stake, the government banned the use in schools of a method increasingly used by some French speakers to make the language more inclusive by feminizing some words.  
 
Specifically, the education minister’s decree targets what is arguably the most contested and politicized letter in the French language — “e.” Simply put, “e” is the language’s feminine letter, used in feminine nouns and their adjectives and, sometimes, when conjugating verbs.
 
But proponents of women’s rights are also increasingly adding “e” to words that normally wouldn’t have included that letter, in a conscious — and divisive — effort to make women more visible.
 
Take the generic French word for leaders — “dirigeants” — for example. For some, that masculine spelling suggests that they are generally men and makes women leaders invisible, because it lacks a feminine “e” toward the end. For proponents of inclusive writing, a more gender-equal spelling is “dirigeant·es,” inserting the extra “e,” preceded by a middle dot, to make clear that leaders can be of both sexes.  
 
Likewise, they might write “les élu·es” — instead of the generic masculine “élus” — for the holders of elected office, again to highlight that women are elected, too. Or they might use “les idiot·es,” instead of the usual generic masculine “les idiots,” to acknowledge that stupidity isn’t the exclusive preserve of men.  
 
Proponents and opponents sometimes split down political lines. France’s conservative Republicans party uses “ élus”; the left-wing France Unbowed tends toward ”élu · es.”
“It’s a fight to make women visible in the language,” said Laurence Rossignol, a Socialist senator who uses the feminizing extra “·e.”  
 
Speaking in a telephone interview, she said its opponents “are the same activists who were against marriage for people of the same sex, medically assisted reproduction, and longer abortion windows. … It’s the new banner under which reactionaries are gathering.”  
 
But for the government of centrist President Emmanuel Macron, the use of ”·e” threatens the very fabric of France. Speaking in a Senate debate on the issue on Thursday, a deputy education minister said inclusive writing “is a danger for our country” and will “sound the death knell for the use of French in the world.”  
 
By challenging traditional norms of French usage, inclusive writing makes the language harder to learn, penalizing pupils with learning difficulties, the minister, Nathalie Elimas, argued.
 
“It dislocates words, breaks them into two,” she said. “With the spread of inclusive writing, the English language — already quasi-hegemonic across the world — would certainly and perhaps forever defeat the French language.”  
 
Arguments over gender-inclusive language are raging elsewhere in Europe, too.
A fault-line among German speakers has been how to make nouns reflect both genders. The German word for athletes, for example, could be written as “Sportlerinnen” to show that it includes both men and women, as opposed to the more usual, generic masculine “Sportler.” For critics, the addition of the feminine “innen” at the end — sometimes with the help of an asterisk, capital letter or underscore — is plain ugly.  
 
Italy has seen sporadic debate over neutralizing gendered titles for public officials, or making them feminine when they normally would remain masculine, such as “ministra” instead of “ministro” for women Cabinet members. Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi prefers to be called “sindaca” rather than “sindaco.”  
 
Inclusive language has also been a long battle for feminists and, more recently, of LGTBQ+ groups in Spain, although there is no consensus on how to make progress. Politics also play into the issue there. Members of the far-right Vox party have insisted on sticking with the traditional “presidente” when referring to Spain’s four deputy prime ministers, all of them women, rather than opting for the more progressive “presidenta,” even though the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language has accepted usage of that feminine noun.
 
The French Education Ministry circular that banished the “·e” formula from schools did, however, accept other more inclusive changes in language that highlight women.
 
They include systematically feminizing job titles for women — like “présidente,” instead of “président,” or ambassadrice” rather than “ambassadeur” for women ambassadors. It also encouraged the simultaneous use of both masculine and feminine forms to emphasize that roles are filled by both sexes. So a job posting in a school, for example, should say that it will go to “le candidat ou la candidate” — man or woman — who is best qualified to fill it.
 
Raphael Haddad, the author of a French-language guide on inclusive writing, said that section of the ministry circular represented progress for the cause of women in French.
 
“It’s a huge step forward, disguised as a ban,” he said. “What’s happening to the France language is the same thing that happened in the United States, with ‘chairman’ replaced by ‘chairperson,’ (and) ‘’fireman’ by ‘firefighter.’”  
 

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EU Calls on US, Others to Export Their COVID-19 Vaccines 

The European Commission called on the United States and other major COVID-19 vaccine producers Friday to export what they make, as the European Union does, rather than talk about waiving intellectual property (IP) rights to the shots.Commission head Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference on the sidelines of a summit of EU leaders that discussions about the waiver would not produce a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine in the short and medium term.”We should be open to lead this discussion. But when we lead this discussion, there needs to be a 360-degree view on it because we need vaccines now for the whole world,” she said.”The European Union is the only continental or democratic region of this world that is exporting at large scale,” von der Leyen said.She said about 50% of European-produced coronavirus vaccine is exported to almost 90 countries, including those in the World Health Organization-backed COVAX program, whose aim is to supply vaccines to mainly poor countries.”And we invite all those who engage in the debate of a waiver for IP rights also to join us to commit to be willing to export a large share of what is being produced in that region,” she said.Only higher production, removing export barriers and the sharing of already-ordered vaccines could immediately help fight the pandemic quickly, she said.”So what is necessary in the short term and the medium term: First of all, vaccine sharing. Secondly, export of vaccines that are being produced. And the third is investment in the increasing of the capacity to manufacture vaccines,” she said.Von der Leyen said the European Union had started its vaccine sharing mechanism, citing delivery of 615,000 doses to the Western Balkans as an example.

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