Year after COVID first hit, Italy faces new wave: PM

Measure comes as cases and hospitalisations rise in Italy, which recently passed grim milestone of 100,000 deaths.

Italy was the first Western country to enforce a national lockdown last year [File: Guglielmo Mangiapane/REUTERS]

Italy is facing “a new wave” of coronavirus infections, Prime Minister Mario Draghi warned as his government prepared to tighten restrictions across most of the country.

“More than a year after the start of the health emergency, we are unfortunately facing a new wave of infections,” Draghi said on Friday, during a visit to a new vaccination centre at Rome’s Fiumicino airport.

“The memory of what happened last spring is vivid, and we will do everything to prevent it from happening again,” he said.

Schools, restaurants, shops and museums are expected to close from Monday in the majority of regions, after Italy recorded almost 26,000 new Covid-19 cases and another 373 deaths on Thursday.

Such figures, which show an almost 15 percent increase in infections over the past week, require the “utmost caution” to limit deaths and pressure on health services.

Draghi’s office earlier confirmed that all of Italy would be classified in the highest risk “red zone” over Easter weekend, between April 3 and 5.

Along with nationwide measures, Italy calibrates restrictions in its 20 regions according to a four-tier colour-coded system (white, yellow, orange and red) based on infection levels and revised every week.

On “red zone” days, Italians will only be allowed to leave their homes for work, health or emergency reasons and non-essential shops will be shuttered nationwide.

Italy was the first Western country to enforce a national lockdown last year, as the virus took hold and the nation became an epicentre of the pandemic.

This week, a grim milestone was reached as Italy recorded 100,000 deaths from COVID-19, a “terrible threshold” said Draghi.

The recent rise in cases in Italy comes amid global attempts to vaccinate populations against the virus.

Health Undersecretary Pierpaolo Sileri told Italian media on Thursday that he hopes two-thirds of the population will have received a first dose of a vaccine by the summer, and a second dose by October.

However, as elsewhere in Europe, Italy has been dogged by delays in deliveries of the jabs.

Concerns over reported side effects of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine prompted Italy’s health regulator on Thursday to suspend a batch of the jabs, even while saying there was no evidence of a suggested link with blood clots.

Draghi has made stepping up the pace of vaccines one of the priorities of his new national unity government, which took over last month when the previous centre-left coalition imploded.

On Friday, he said that whatever the outcome of a review by the EU’s medicines regulator, “I can assure you that the vaccination campaign will continue with renewed intensity”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies