Australia's prime minister has played down the impact of Italy's decision to block the export of 250,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses. Italy explained the ban as necessary because of a shortage of vaccines in virus-hit Europe and the absence of urgent need in relatively virus-free Australia.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted the blocked shipment of the AstraZeneca jabs was understandable and would not affect Australia's vaccine programme.
He expressed sympathy for Europe's plight against Covid-19 on social media.
"In Italy, people are dying at the rate of 300 a day. And so I can certainly understand the high level of anxiety that would exist in Italy and in many countries across Europe.
"They are in an unbridled crisis situation. That is not the situation in Australia," he added.
"This particular shipment was not one we'd counted on for the rollout, and so we will continue unabated," Morrison said.
Australia's chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, also offered solidarity: "My sister lives in Italy. They're at the moment having 18,000 cases a day."
AstraZeneca already under pressure to deliver
The European Commission has criticised AstraZeneca, an Anglo-Swedish company, for supplying just a fraction of the vaccine doses it had promised to deliver to the bloc.
Italy's export ban rekindled accusations of "vaccine nationalism", something Morrison rejected, pointing to the large number of vaccines that have already left the European Union.
Australia strikes deals to roll out 85 million Covid-19 vaccine doses
Australia has received 300,000 AstraZeneca doses so far.
That batch, along with supplies of the Pfizer vaccine, is expected to last until domestic production is scaled up at the end of the month.
Pharmaceutical company CSL is producing AstraZeneca's vaccine in Australia after its own candidate did not successfully conclude trials.
Local production is more than adequate
In total, around 50 million doses are expected to be produced in Australia.
Morrison said that capacity had given Australia "sovereignty over our vaccination program, which I think is incredibly important."
Though Australia approved vaccines later than most countries, it aims to have the vast majority of the adult population inoculated by October this year.
The country of about 25 million people has seen more than 25,000 virus cases since the pandemic began and around 900 deaths.