Italy Heads Back to Lockdown After New Surge in Covid Cases

Most of Italy will return to lockdown on Monday, a year after the country shut down to contain Covid-19, as Prime Minister Mario Draghi pledges to triple vaccinations to more than half a million a day.

While some other European countries such as Germany have laid out reopening plans, Italy is moving in the opposite direction amid a resurgence in infections to levels last seen in November. The government has blamed more-contagious virus strains from the U.K. and Brazil.

Italy Heads Back to Lockdown After New Surge in Covid Cases

Draghi, a former European Central Bank head with a reputation for technocratic efficiency, took office in February amid expectations that he’d end the emergency and help revive the economy. On Friday, his cabinet approved restrictions that require schools, stores and restaurants in most of Italy to close starting March 15. Face masks and social distancing will remain compulsory.

“Italy is administering about 170,000 doses a day -- our aim is to triple that,” Draghi said in one of his rare public appearances since becoming premier. “It is only with widespread vaccinations that we will be able to do without restrictions like the ones we have had to adopt.”

Draghi chose a vaccination center at Rome’s Fiumicino airport as a backdrop to make his case that cranking up the inoculation campaign will lift the devastated economy. He pledged 32 billion euros ($38 billion) of additional stimulus next week, with more to come in the months ahead.

Italy will need an estimated 16 months to cover 75% of the population with a two-dose vaccine unless it speeds up the pace, according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker.

Italy Heads Back to Lockdown After New Surge in Covid Cases

To keep his vaccination pledge, Draghi will have to ensure that pharmaceutical companies step up vaccine deliveries, which have amounted to 7.9 million doses so far. He hinted he’s ready to block vaccine exports again in case of further delays, using emergency European powers that Italy already exercised earlier this month.

Doctors, Dentists

The government plans to enlist dentists, family doctors and medical students to distribute doses as quickly as possible, using offices, gyms and parking lots as inoculation sites.

Draghi said he’ll seek parliamentary approval to further expand the budget deficit in order to compensate families and business hit by the new restrictions. His government aims to prolong furloughs and help weakened companies as lockdowns continue to damage the economy.

Under the new rules, regions with more than 250 weekly cases per 100,000 inhabitants are automatically be designated as high-risk “red zones.” Health Minister Roberto Speranza said Friday evening that 11 of Italy’s 20 regions, including those surrounding Milan and Rome, will go into lockdown from Monday, affecting more than two-thirds of Italians.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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