France, Italy Set to Extend Curbs to Contain Covid Variants
(Bloomberg) -- France and Italy are set to extend virus restrictions as Europe struggles to contain a sharp increase in infections due to new variants.
The resurgence in the outbreak is a setback for governments, whose plans to get life back to normal and revive their economies have already been stymied by a slow vaccine rollout across the European Union. The French virus spike has been particularly bad, and Germany and Spain last week imposed border restrictions to travelers coming from the country.
French President Emmanuel Macron is due to address the nation at 8 p.m. Paris time and is planning to announce tougher measures then, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified. A ban on intercity travel and well as a closing of schools is possible, which along with current measures, would effectively amount to a new lockdown, the people said.
In Italy, Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government will extend current restrictions on movement and business openings in high-risk areas until the end of April 30, according to a draft of the new decree seen by Bloomberg News. Extra measures include making vaccination mandatory for medical staff. The cabinet will meet around 5:30 p.m. in Rome.
A full lockdown for France would represent a reversal for Macron. He had favored a localized approach, and his rejection of advice for stricter measures sooner could be politically damaging a year out from presidential elections. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a major u-turn on Easter restrictions, undermining her party’s standing with voters.
Merkel said Germany will halt the use of AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine for people younger than 60 starting Wednesday. The policy change, endorsed by regional health ministers, came after the release of new data on potential side effects.
The EU gave some grounds for optimism on Wednesday, with news that 107 million Covid vaccines will have been delivered by the end of this week, reaching the bloc’s targeted goal to ship 100 million doses in the first three months of the year. The milestone was confirmed by European Commission spokesperson, Dana Spinant and reported earlier by Bloomberg News.
It’s a rare vaccine win for the EU, which has been seeking to ramp up a sluggish inoculation campaign that lags behind western countries such as the U.K. and the U.S.
In the meantime, as governments wait for the shots to be administered, tighter restrictions are deemed necessary.
“The key factor of our decision is the situation in hospitals,” Attal said. Around 5,000 people are now receiving intensive care, higher than the peak reached in November last year, during the epidemic’s second wave. “The triage of patients is not an option,” he said.
And the country reported more than 250,000 new cases and 1,700 deaths in the past week.
Earlier this month, the French government placed more than a third of the country including the Paris region under a lighter lockdown. The U.K. went through a similar process last year, abandoning a four-tier strategy that proved over-complicated and didn’t work to contain infections.
Prime Minister Jean Castex will speak in parliament during a debate and vote on the measures needed to address the epidemic on Thursday, according to Macron’s party.
Macron’s administration had also insisted on keeping schools open over the past year, in contrast to many European neighbors.
The French leader so far has been unapologetic about his government’s handling of the pandemic and his decision to postpone new curbs for as long as possible.
In January, Macron ignored the advice of his health minister who began advocating for stricter restrictions. Instead, the government imposed a nationwide curfew, closed malls and added travel curbs. It was earlier this month that the government shuttered a large swathe of the country, although some open-air activities were encouraged.
The hope was that the pessimistic scientific forecasts wouldn’t materialize. But they did.
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