March 14, 2021, 3:35 p.m. ET
March 14, 2021, 3:35 p.m. ET
Italians enjoyed the last weekend outdoors before three-quarters of the population goes into a strict lockdown on Monday, when the government puts in place restrictive measures to fight the rise in coronavirus infections.
A more contagious variant first identified in Britain, combined with a slow vaccine rollout, led to a 15 percent increase in cases in Italy last week.
“I am aware that today’s measures will have an impact on children’s education, on the economy but also on the psychological state of us all,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Friday. “But they are necessary to avoid a worsening that will make inevitable even more stringent measures.”
Most regions in northern Italy, as well as Lazio and Marche in central Italy and Campania and Puglia in the south, will shut schools and forbid residents from leaving their homes except for work, health or necessity. Among business activities, only supermarkets, pharmacies and a few other stores will stay open, while restaurants will be closed.
In the rest of the country, residents will not be allowed to leave their municipality except for certain reasons, but schools and many stores will stay open.
“We believe that only with widespread vaccinations will we be able to avoid measures like these,” Mr. Draghi added.
Fewer than two million people in the country have been fully vaccinated so far, partly because of late deliveries from pharmaceutical companies, but also because of logistical problems in some regions. Italy, a country of about 60 million people, is one of the hardest-hit countries in the world: More than 3.2 million people have contracted the virus, more than 100,000 of whom have died.
Last Saturday, the government said it aimed to vaccinate at least 80 percent of the population by September. The plan, designed by an army general picked by Mr. Draghi for his expertise in logistics, envisioned administering up to 500,000 doses a day and also hiring junior doctors and dentists to give the injections in a variety of facilities, such as military barracks, production sites, schools and gyms.
According to a government document, vaccination capacity is expected to increase in coming months. Deliveries are set to rise from 15.7 million doses in the first quarter to 52.5 million from April to June, peaking at almost 85 million in the third quarter. After canceling or limiting supplies for weeks, Pfizer-BioNTech should increase deliveries in the near future, while AstraZeneca is still planning a slower rollout of vaccines to Italy. The Piedmont region, however, suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Sunday, a precautionary measure pending investigations into the risk of blood clots.
The entire country will be on lockdown for the Easter weekend early next month to prevent the usual large family reunions. As with the restrictions at Christmas, people will still be allowed to leave their homes once a day.
In other news from around the world:
Spain on Sunday marked the first anniversary of the state of emergency that was declared during the pandemic’s early days, amid continued worries about the virus’s spread, divergent lockdown measures and some protests over its economic impact. Musicians, actors, theater technicians and other culture professionals held street demonstrations in several Spanish cities to protest the lack of support they say the sector has received. Since last March, the pandemic has killed more than 72,000 people in Spain — one of Europe’s highest death tolls — according to a New York Times database. But Spain’s numbers have improved since January, prompting some regions to ease restrictions. On Monday, northeastern Catalonia will allow more residents to travel across the region and stores will be allowed to open on weekends again.
In France, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Sunday that the country has to “use all weapons available to avoid a lockdown,” urging people to get vaccinated and tested for the virus. The French government has so far rejected pressure from health experts to institute a third national lockdown as cases and deaths climb, Reuters reported. The country has imposed a nationwide 6 p.m. curfew and weekend lockdowns in some regions where cases are spiking. On Saturday, the seven-day average of reported cases in France reached 23,273, up from 18,755 a month ago. “The situation is not getting better,” Mr. Castex said in an interview on the livestreaming platform Twitch.