Covid in Europe: Italy bans New Year events, France cases at national record |
Italy has tightened restrictions to curb surging Covid-19 infections, including banning all public New Year’s Eve celebrations, as daily infections hit a record high.
Italian health minister Roberto Speranza said mask wearing would be compulsory outdoors again and ordered people to use the more protective Ffp2 face masks on public transport and in public places, such as theatres, cinemas and at sports events.
In addition, concerts and open-air events will be banned until January 31st, and discos and dance clubs will have to shut their doors until that date, in an effort to prevent mass socialising during the holiday period.
The announcement came on the day Italy registered a record 44,595 new coronavirus cases – an increase of more than 70 per cent in just a week, with the infectious Omicron variant starting to flare across the country.
Deaths are also starting to creep up, rising to 168 on Thursday, the largest number since May, but they remain well below rates seen during previous infection surges thanks mainly to the large number of people vaccinated in Italy.
Fifth wave in France
France meanwhile had its worst-ever day in terms of new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, with more than 91,000 new cases being recorded.
The number of deaths also climbed, as the country battles against a fifth wave of the virus.
“Today’s figures are not good,” said French health minister Olivier Veran.
Mr Veran had earlier told reporters that the case number would stand at around 88,000 for Thursday, but the final official tally from the health ministry showed 91,608 new cases. He had already warned earlier this week that France would soon be at 100,000 new Covid-19 cases per day.
Data from the health ministry also showed that France registered a further 179 Covid-19 deaths in hospitals over the last 24 hours, while the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units reached 3,208, up by 61 from the previous day.
President Emmanuel Macron is hoping France’s vaccine booster campaign will help to contain the fifth wave of the coronavirus to hit the country. He is aiming to avoid imposing tough, new restrictions, although the French government has said all options will be considered.
Italy health certs
In Italy, health minister Mr Speranza said almost 89 per cent of Italians had been vaccinated, but the government wanted to speed up delivery of third booster shots, seen as the most effective shield against the Omicron variant which is sweeping Europe and the United States.
The government will cut the waiting time for a booster following second vaccinations to four months from five.
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In addition, ministers agreed to reduce the validity of Covid-19 health certificates, which are needed to access an array of places and services, in recognition of the fact that vaccine effectiveness fades over time.
As a result, from February 1st, the certificates, which register if someone has been vaccinated or has recently recovered from coronavirus, will only be valid for six months rather than nine at present.
Italy was the first Western country to be hit by the pandemic last year and has so far registered 136,245 deaths – the second highest tally in Europe after Britain.
However its vaccination campaign has proved one of the most effective in the world and the government has said it is determined to avoid a return to generalised lockdowns.