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Coronavirus: What are the EU coronavirus schemes?

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The UK government has not joined a European Union (EU) scheme to secure coronavirus vaccines.

It has ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine by Pfizer and German-based BioNTech, which trials suggested could prevent more than 90% of people from getting Covid-19.

The EU has approved the purchase of 200 million doses of the vaccine on behalf of its member states, as well as an option to buy 100 million more.

The European Commission says it also has a "contractual framework in place" to purchase 80 million doses of vaccine by Moderna, a US company that developeda vaccine that's, according to early data, nearly 95% effective.

The EU has launched a number of other schemes to secure medical supplies during the pandemic, which the UK has chosen not to take part in.

What is the EU doing?

The EU started to co-ordinate the purchasing of personal protective equipment (PPE), testing kits and ventilators in February.

By negotiating on behalf of its members, it wanted to secure reductions in costs.

There are five schemes:

  • A scheme to purchase gloves and coveralls, worth up to €97m (£86m)
  • A ventilator scheme, worth up to €1.4bn
  • A scheme to purchase eye and respiratory protection, worth up to €1.4bn
  • A testing kit scheme, worth up to €350m
  • A scheme to secure the production and supply of vaccines in the EU (four contracts have been concluded)

How do they work?

A 2014 agreement provides a legal basis for the EU to co-ordinate purchasing of medical equipment and vaccines when there is a need for it.

Before a scheme is up and running, countries need to tell the European Commission if they want to take part and how much equipment they think they will need.

The EU then looks for suppliers and negotiates agreements. Once a contract is signed, countries taking part can place their orders for PPE or medical equipment.

When it comes to vaccines, the Commission says they will be distributed between the countries on the basis of their population.

It says this will avoid competition between them as they can all access vaccines on the same terms, irrespective of their size or purchasing power.

Can the UK join?

The UK is allowed to take part, even though it left the EU on 31 January 2020.

That's because the UK is currently in a transition period until the end of the year. During the transition, the UK continues to pay into the EU budget and follow all the rules - but it can also participate in EU programmes and schemes.

Norway, Iceland and Bosnia and Herzegovina can also take part in the EU's medical schemes as they signed the 2014 agreement, despite not being EU members.

In July, in a letter to the European Commission, the UK ambassador to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow, explained that the government was opting out because it felt it wouldn't be allowed to continue its own negotiations with potential suppliers and wouldn't have a say on the price, volume and date of possible deliveries.

Has any equipment been distributed?

Yes - the European Commission says that orders have been placed and delivered under each of the four medical equipment schemes, including:

  • Latvia has purchased 25,000 goggles and 100,000 masks (with another 130,000 FFP masks due for delivery in December)
  • The Netherlands has had 82,000 coveralls and 2 million FFP masks delivered since July.
  • Austria placed an order for 500,000 FFP masks - deliveries started in June.
  • Belgium placed an order for 2.6 million FFP masks.

The Commission said several orders had been placed for laboratory equipment too.

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image captionThe UK is sourcing its own ventilators outside the EU's scheme

The UK government, outside the schemes, says that from 25 February to 1 November it delivered 4.6 billion items of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the health and social sectors in England.

This includes:

  • 649 million aprons
  • 53 million eye protectors
  • 41 million face masks (FFP3)
  • 2.8 billion gloves (the government counts gloves individually, so 1.4bn pairs).

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