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This week in the EU: Turkey tensions, Polish elections and vaccine politics

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A volunteer participates in Medicago’s Phase I clinical trial for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate in Quebec City. (Photo: Business Wire)
A volunteer participates in Medicago’s Phase I clinical trial for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate in Quebec City. (Photo: Business Wire)   -   Copyright  AP Photo
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Ministers in Brussels kicked off the week with some tough talk on foreign policy, as they picked up some hot-button issues like relations with Turkey.

Turkey tensions

On the agenda in talks among foreign ministers was the long-standing conflict over Turkey's drilling activity off the coast of Cyprus, the country's meddling in the EU's Libya policy and, most recently, Ankara's decision to turn the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.

"(There is) a consensus among member states, that the European Union-Turkey relations are currently under continued strain," said Josep Borrell, EU Foreign Policy Chief.

"The Turkish unilateral actions, in particular, the Eastern Mediterranean, which run counter to EU interests, to the sovereign rights of European Union member-states and international law must come to an end," he added.

At the same time, the foreign ministers expressed their willingness to improve relations with Turkey – a perfect carrot and stick approach.

Poland

A similar motivational strategy could also be helpful when dealing with another troublemaker: Poland.

Right-wing nationalist Andrzej Duda was re-elected as president with a razor-thin majority this week.

As he and his supporters celebrated, political observers struck a sour note.

"We were worried by instances of intolerant rhetoric, of homophobic, xenophobic and antisemitic nature, particularly by the president's campaign and public television," said Thomas Boserup, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

Duda's win means he could continue with controversial reforms of the judicial system, which have set the country on a collision course with Brussels.

Whether that collision course will lead to a crash remains to be seen.

Second wave preparations

This week, the European Commission presented immediate short-term measures to strengthen EU health preparedness for future coronavirus outbreaks.

That includes increased testing coverage, contact tracing and surveillance by public health bodies to map clusters of new infections.

In the meantime, a group of international scientists came up with a critical analysis of the global coronavirus response, while urging a more fact-based approach.

They advocate a way out of the crisis that does not necessarily focus on social distancing and vaccines.

The Interview

Euronews spoke to Dr Martin Zizi, a molecular biophysicist, former top public health official in Belgium and UN bioweapon inspector, currently leading a scientific startup in California

Zizi is the lead author of a report on the pandemic that critically analyses governments with regard to their coronavirus response, but also the media.

"All the population, is taken hostage between denial, 'this is nothing,' and an over-reaction, 'it is the end of the time, it is like Ebola'," he said.

He added that it is not the virus which kills people, but bacteria, "because bacteria try to take advantage of viral infections."

"You go and see a doctor, you're treated and then you'll get over it. But in this case, because of the false dialectic between these two extremes, a lot of people, they stay home, they are not seeing their doctor quickly enough, they are not treated," he said.

People are caught between two extremes of over-reaction and a "this is nothing" message creates confusion over when to seek medical advice, according to Zizi. He added that not seeking medical attention in time is what contributes to an increase in the number of deaths.

His report says that authorities did what they could, based on a misleading set of information.

"They chose a model of catastrophe based on a kind of Ebola scenario, and this is not Ebola," he said.

The mortality rate that fed the model Zizi is speaking about, he claims, is far too high and he added that he is struck the model was not corrected after eight months.

"The mortality rate is probably five to ten times less than it is," he said.

According to Zizi, without the correct model, the risk to the public's health cannot be assessed correctly, meaning authorities are not allocating time, resources and money in the right way.

On the global race for the development of a vaccine, he said that a vaccine may not even be the best option. He argues that a fully effective vaccine is "not technically possible," and could only "be effective forty per cent at best."

He argues that this is better than nothing, but that "we shouldn't always put our eggs in the basket of the vaccine," adding that people being infected but not being sick contribute to immunity.

"So a vaccine and herd immunity are not like opposing choices, they are both equally needed," he explained.