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Netanyahu meets Hungarian, Czech leaders to discuss vaccine cooperation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the leaders of the Czech Republic and Hungary on Thursday in Jerusalem to discuss cooperating on the research, development and production of COVID-19 vaccines.

Netanyahu, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban, also discussed so-called “green passports” to allow mutual travel between countries for vaccinated individuals.

Netanyahu said he aimed to “involve both Czech Republic and Hungary in the international plant that we want to build here in Israel for the production of the vaccines of the future.”

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi joined the meeting, alongside other top officials from the three countries.

Israel has given the two recommended doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech shot to over 4 million of its 9.29-million population, while both the Czech Republic and Hungary, and the EU as a whole, have been struggling with their vaccine roll-outs.

The Czech Republic topped the world’s statistics for COVID-19 infections per capita over the past two weeks and was second in new deaths, according to an AFP tally based on official data.

Hungary is eighth and fourth in the rankings, respectively.

In his quest to boost vaccinations in his country and bypass bottlenecks in EU supplies, Babis recently visited Hungary and Serbia, which are using the Russian Sputnik V and Chinese Sinopharm vaccines.

Czech President Milos Zeman meanwhile asked Russian and Chinese leaders for supplies of the two vaccines and announced that they had both said yes.

However, a recent poll has shown Czechs are reluctant to take these vaccines, which have not been approved by the European Medicines Agency.

During the visit to Israel, Babis was also set to open a Czech diplomatic office in Jerusalem.

Just like most other countries, the Czech Republic has its embassy in Tel Aviv, pending a resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians, who claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

The visit by Babis and Orban took place close to two weeks before Israelis go to the polls, in an election campaign that Netanyahu has waged by highlighting his vaccination record, while trying to underplay the three national lockdowns Israel has faced over the past year due to surging infection rates.

Last week, Israel agreed on a research and development fund with Austria and Denmark to develop and produce future-generation coronavirus vaccines.

On Tuesday, Israel and Brazil agreed to establish a joint team to research, develop and produce COVID-19 vaccines during a meeting between top officials in Jerusalem.

Source: TOI

Header: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, with Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, left, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, right, in Jerusalem, March 11, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)