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Covid-19 cases surge in Europe leading to new restrictions

Infections rose by 10 percent in Italy last week, and officials are warning that the situation is deteriorating as variants gain ground.
Image: People enjoy their time at a bar on the final day of open restaurants and bars before tighter Covid-19 restrictions are enforced, in Rome, Italy
People enjoy their time at a bar on the final day of open restaurants and bars before tighter Covid-19 restrictions are enforced in Rome. Remo Casilli / Reuters

New Covid-19 restrictions are being rolled out across Europe amid a surge in cases and a sluggish vaccination rollout.

In Italy, one of the hardest hit European countries during the first wave of the pandemic last spring, the government has imposed a nationwide lockdown over the Easter holidays and placed curbs on business and movement across much of the country.

Starting Monday, more than half of Italy will be put in the “red” tier, the highest level of contagion.

An Italian Carabinieri officer checks the documents of a driver as Rome becomes a "red zone" going into lockdown.Reuters

In 11 regions, including Lazio where capital Rome is located, Italians will only be allowed to leave their homes to go to grocery stores, pharmacies, doctors or for a health or work reason. In a deja-vu from last spring, they will also be required to carry with them a self-certification form indicating where they are going, why and from where.

All public places, including restaurants, bars, gyms, pools, theatres, cinemas will be closed.

Italy saw infections rise by 10 percent last week compared with the week earlier, and officials have warned that the situation is deteriorating as highly contagious variants gain ground.

“The application of more rigorous measures and the progressive rise in the number of vaccinated people make us think that already in the second half of spring (contagion) numbers will be improving,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza told daily la Repubblica in an interview Sunday. But he added that the coming weeks “would not be at all easy.”

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Italy on Saturday released its national vaccination plan, aiming to vaccinate at least 80 percent of its population by the end of September and administer 500,000 doses a day at full capacity. So far, 6.7 million Italians have received at least one vaccine dose, with just over 2 million of them having received the required 2 doses, health ministry data shows.

While several European countries, including Ireland and the Netherlands, suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine over reports from Denmark and Norway that recipients have suffered blood clots, Italy’s health regulator said Sunday the alarm raised over the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine is not justified.

The reports are slowing down an already slugging vaccine rollout across the European Union, marred by dose shortages.

The European Medicines Agency has said there is no indication that the events were caused by the vaccination, a view that was echoed by the World Health Organization on Friday.

AstraZeneca said on Sunday a review of safety data of people vaccinated with its Covid-19 vaccine has shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.

Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said Sunday France must do everything to avoid a new coronavirus lockdown as the country reported more than 26,000 new cases, increasing the strain on the healthcare system.

The French government has so far resisted pressure from some health experts to impose a new, third lockdown in the face of rising case numbers.

France has recorded more than 90,000 deaths since last March. Intensive care units in capital Paris have been fullest since last November. The government plans to transfer about 100 patients this week by air or special trains from the greater Paris region to other cities to help to ease pressure on hospitals in the capital.

“The situation is not getting better, there is a higher and higher number of infections and hospitals are very burdened with many patients,” Castex said.