European countries tightening anti-pandemic measures amid rising COVID-19 infections

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Reuters/CDE – Several European countries including Italy, Spain and France have tighten COVID-19 containment measures amid new outbreaks, with massive vaccination programs underway.

Italy reported on Saturday 18,916 new COVID-19 cases, bringing its tally to 2.9 million, according to the country’s health authorities.

The health ministry confirmed 280 new fatalities from the virus over the past day, taking the national toll to 97,507.

The Italian government has decided to raise the risk level of the epidemic in several regions and upgrade the corresponding prevention and control measures starting from March 1. Among them, Basilicata and Molise have risen to the highest red level. The two places will completely restrict travel and close all kinds of non-essential retail stores.

More than 1.24 million people in Spain have been injected with two doses of the vaccines, most of which are from Pfizer, over the two months since the country started the vaccination program, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health on Saturday.

Spain’s single-month COVID-19 deaths in February 2021 reached a new high since April 2020, with more than 100,000 deaths reported as of Saturday, said the Spanish National Bureau of Statistics.

The Madrid Region has begun its mass vaccination program, but the health department expects that the progress of vaccinations will slow down next week because the doses of the vaccine is expected to be less than planned.

A total of 1,243,783 Spaniards have received two doses of the vaccine, according to a report from the Spanish Ministry of Health on Saturday.

The number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 in France rose by 23,996 in the past 24 hours, according to figures released by the country’s Public Health Agency on Saturday.

The daily tally of new cases, down from Friday’s 25,207, has brought the cumulative number of infections to 3,736,016. The country’s death toll rose by 185 in a 24-hour span to 86,332.

So far, a total of 2,917,925 people in France have been inoculated, of whom 1,560,575 have received the two doses, representing 2.33 percent of the country’s population, data from health authorities showed.

France has already received over 7.7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses developed by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

More than 60 cities and towns in the Alpes-Maritimes in southeastern France and the Dunkirk region in the north entered the first weekend of lockdown on Saturday.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Saturday that the most important thing at present for the other 20 provinces with severe epidemics is to do everything possible to avoid “lockdown” again.

According to French media reports, Castex also convened a video conference on Saturday with the chief executives and representatives of parliamentarians from the 20 provinces, mobilizing all regions to conduct consultations on strengthening epidemic prevention and control as soon as possible, and requesting that all regions intensity existing anti-epidemic measures.

The Hungarian government has decided to extend the existing prevention and control measures for the COVID-19 pandemic until March 15, Gergely Gulyas, head of the Prime Minister’s Office, announced at a press conference on Thursday.

Hungarians have begun receiving doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from China’s Sinopharm, becoming the first European Union citizens to get it.

It comes as Hungary extended restrictions to tackle the virus on Thursday, recording 4,385 new coronavirus cases, the highest number since December 17.

Much of Central Europe is now gripped by a third wave of the pandemic and Hungary is no exception. Officials are warning that cases are expected to rise “dramatically” in the coming weeks. But with the roll-out of Sinopharm’s vaccine, Hungary now has five jabs in its armory, the highest number of any European Union (EU) member state.

Hungarian officials have criticized the EU’s vaccination process, which has been hampered by production delays. To add to its share of vaccines as part of the EU procurement, Hungary turned to Russia and China for additional supplies. Both vaccines were approved by Hungarian regulators in late January.

At central Prague’s busy retail center, shoppers collected their last-minute supplies before the city, and the rest of the Czech Republic, went back into lockdown.

The government has declared another state of emergency from Monday with the entire country facing new restrictions. They are the toughest measures the country has seen so far, with people banned from leaving their local districts, nurseries shut and even special schools for disabled children added to the ever-growing list of closures.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis has pleaded with his country to follow the rules.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, renewed concerns about COVID-19 variants that could derail recovery plans.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the data points to a possible ‘third wave’ of the pandemic, with several of her counterparts once again preparing to lockdown to help minimize the loss of lives.

Various lockdown measures have been in place in Germany since November. The restrictions were set to be loosened in a week’s time, but with the country now starting to also see an uptick in cases – there’s a growing expectation that lockdown-weary Germans will be asked, once again, to observe restrictions.

It is a similar story in Belgium, where leaders have backtracked on plans to loosen restrictions. Just as much of the country was coming out of a forced winter hibernation, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo now says it is time to head back inside.

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