ROME (AFP) — Italy is facing “a new wave” of coronavirus infections, Prime Minister Mario Draghi warned Friday as his government prepared to tighten restrictions across most of the country.
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.
During a visit to a new vaccination centre at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, Draghi did not give details of the new measures but said his cabinet had agreed to adopt “appropriate and proportionate” restrictions.
“More than a year after the start of the health emergency, we are unfortunately facing a new wave of infections,” he said.
He said the figures — showing an almost 15 percent increase in infections over the past week — required the “utmost caution” to limit deaths and pressure on health services.
“The memory of what happened last spring is vivid, and we will do everything to prevent it from happening again,” he added.
More than 100,000 people with coronavirus have died in Italy since the pandemic swept over the country one year ago, sparking a months-long lockdown and triggering the worst recession since World War II.
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.
– Third wave –
The spokesman said the cabinet had agreed new guidelines for the classification for red zones, in which residents are urged to stay home except for emergencies, work and health reasons.
From Monday, every region with more than 250 cases per 100,000 inhabitants will pass automatically into red.
The latest official data is expected later Friday, but figures from the GIMBE think tank published Thursday for the week ending March 9 suggest that most regions will be affected.
Previously, the classification of red zones was based on a range of criteria, involving some political input.
Media reports had suggested Italy’s more populated northern regions such as Lombardy, which includes Milan, would be among those going into the red, as would Lazio, which includes Rome.
The new restrictions, on top of the existing 10:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew in place across Italy, will last until Easter.
– Vaccine campaign –
GIMBE president Nino Cartabellotta on Thursday warned of an increase in the number of new cases for three consecutive weeks, which “confirms the start of the third wave” of Covid-19.
He said that in more than half of Italy’s 20 regions, “hospitals and above all intensive care units are already overloaded”, with ordinary health services suspended.
Italy began its coronavirus vaccination campaign in late December but, as elsewhere in Europe, it 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”.
by Alice RITCHIE
© Agence France-Presse