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Europe's week: Leaders meet virtually, as EU and US renew their vows

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By Euronews
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Europe's week: Leaders meet virtually, as EU and US renew their vows
Copyright  European Union
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More than a year after the pandemic began, Europe is still being hit hard by the coronavirus.

Instead of enjoying a further easing of restrictions come Easter, many citizens will now have to endure tighter restrictions, as a third wave strikes the continent.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the country's 16 state governors ordered a total five-day shutdown over Easter, prompting confusion and heavy criticism.

So heavy, that Merkel surrendered the next day.

Offering a public Mea culpa, Merkel u-turned and dropped the shutdown, saying she alone was responsible.

“There is no doubt about it, the idea of the so-called Easter rest was a mistake. I deeply regret this and I would like to apologize for this one more time to the citizens as well as to you, my fellow colleagues," the German Chancellor explained.

Merkel's plea comes at a moment of growing frustration and controversy at a European level over vaccine distribution, something that was widely discussed at this week's virtual EU summit Thursday.

The heads of state and government backed a Commission proposal on tightening the criteria to authorise the export of EU-made doses in order to secure supplies for citizens inside the bloc.

Transatlantic revival

US President Joe Biden also made a special appearance at the leaders' videoconference - a significant show of transatlantic unity after four years of Europe-bashing by Donald Trump.

Biden's Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was in Brussels personally, much to the delight of his European hosts.

In an interview with Euronews, he summed it all up: “We wanted to come here, to be here with one very central task in mind and that was to simply reaffirm our commitment to NATO, our alliances, our partnership with the European Union.

"America is back in terms of its commitments to its alliances, to its partnerships. And we got a very, very good reception.”

China sanctions

But as the transatlantic partners renewed their vows, relations between the East and West took a serious dip earlier in the week.

The EU, US, UK, and Canada all coordinated sanctions against four Chinese officials and one entity believed to be involved in the alleged human rights violations of the Uyghur Muslin minority.

The international community alleges that serious abuses are taking place, including mass arbitrary detention, torture and forced political indoctrination in concentration camps located in the Xingjian autonomous region.

China has repeatedly denied all allegations, with its foreign ministry saying that the sanctions are "based on nothing but lies" and that they "severely undermine China-EU relations".

The move from Brussels represents the first punitive measure against Beijing since the arms embargo that the then-twelve member states imposed in 1989 on Communist China as a result of the violent crackdown in Tiananmen Square.