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Europe's week: Vaccine approval and a final dose of Brexit

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An old people's home in Alzano Lombardo, one of the area that most suffered the first wave of COVID-19, in Northern Italy, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020
An old people's home in Alzano Lombardo, one of the area that most suffered the first wave of COVID-19, in Northern Italy, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020   -   Copyright  Luca Bruno/AP
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The UK got a taste of what a no-deal Brexit might look like this week, after Europe closed its borders to its neighbour after the emergence of a new, more infectious strain of coronavirus that is spreading rapidly throughout the country.

All incoming road and air travel was suspended over the weekend as governments scrambled to contain the new COVID-19 variant.

As lorry drivers with delivery supplies piled up on both sides of the border, EU leaders held an emergency video conference meeting Monday to try and find a coordinated response to the crisis.

That didn't stop UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson chiming in, however. He said: "I want to stress that we in the UK fully understand the anxieties of our friends about Covid, their anxieties about the new variant, but it is also true that we believe the risks of transmission by a solitary driver sitting alone in the cab are really very low."

Eventually, a deal was reached between France and the UK to get freight moving again, with truck drivers having to get mandatory rapid COVID-19 tests done by the military, in order to be able to travel.

Vaccine approval

But as the mutated coronavirus strain began to proliferate, across the English Channel, Pfizer/BioNTech's vaccine was finally approved by the EU, meaning that inoculations could finally begin on the continent that it was made.

There was much debate in the run-up to its approval over why other countries like the UK and US were pressing ahead with their grand vaccination rollouts, but the European Medicines Agency (EMA) stood strong on its process and gave its seal of approval Monday, allowing the first jabs to be given as a belated Christmas present.

"Allow me to say how proud I am that the first COVID-19 vaccine available in Europe is a true product of European innovation," Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, despite the continent lagging behind other countries.

"This is a true European success story," she added.

Vaccines will begin throughout the EU on December 27.

The final Brexit dosage?

One story that is unlikely to be called a true European success story, however, is Brexit.

The negotiations have been ongoing all year and despite deadline after deadline being set and then broken, a deal on future trade between the UK and the EU still eludes both parties.

The European Parliament's December 20 deadline was missed, but that didn't stop negotiations continuing, taking talks down to the wire.

The UK's early taste of what a no-deal Brexit might look like could force its hand though in the final stages of discussions, as British leaders look to avoid the chaos that could ensue.