Europe facing new restrictions as Covid-19 cases surge

New Covid-19 restrictions are being rolled out across Europe as the number of cases soars and vaccination adoption sluggishly.

In Italy, one of the hardest-hit European countries during the first wave of the pandemic last spring, the government imposed a nationwide lockdown over the Easter holidays, restricting business and movement in much of the country.

As of Monday, more than half of Italy will be classified in the “red” level, the highest level of infection.

An Italian Carabinieri officer checks a driver’s documents as Rome becomes a “red zone” that is closed.Reuters

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

All public places, including restaurants, bars, gyms, pools, theaters, and cinemas, are closed.

In Italy, infections are up 10 percent in the past week compared to the previous week, and authorities have warned the situation is getting worse as highly contagious variants gain traction.

“The application of stricter measures and the progressive increase in the number of people vaccinated lead us to believe that the number will improve as early as the second half of spring (contagion),” said Health Minister Roberto Speranza in an interview with the daily newspaper la Repubblica on Sunday . But he added that the coming weeks “wouldn’t be easy at all”.

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Italy on Saturday released its national vaccination schedule, which aims to vaccinate at least 80 percent of its population by the end of September and deliver 500,000 doses per day at full capacity. To date, 6.7 million Italians have received at least one dose of vaccine, of which just over 2 million have received the required 2 doses, data from the Ministry of Health shows.

While several European countries, including Ireland and the Netherlands, have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to reports from Denmark and Norway that recipients have suffered blood clots, the Italian health authority said on Sunday the alarm about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine is not justified.

The reports are slowing an already sluggish vaccine rollout across the European Union, hampered by dose shortages.

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

AstraZeneca said Sunday a review of the safety records of people vaccinated with its Covid-19 vaccine found no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.

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

The French government has so far resisted pressure from some health experts to impose a new, third lockdown amid rising numbers of cases.

France has recorded more than 90,000 deaths since last March. The intensive care units in the capital Paris have been busiest since last November. The government plans to take around 100 patients to other cities by air or special trains from the greater Paris area this week to ease pressure on hospitals in the capital.

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

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