ITALY is extending its Covid-19 state of emergency until the end of April as infections spike amid a “worsening of the epidemic” in the past week.
Travel is banned across the country, while even takeaways from cafes are prohibited under the strict rules that are now in place until April 30.
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The state of emergency has been extended as Covid-19 infections are increasing fast – with current active cases up by more than six times since October, said Health Minister Roberto Speranza.
“A strong new storm is mounting in Europe. The virus will be curbed with vaccines but it will keep circulating with growing strength and can hit us once again very badly,” said Speranza.
“In the past week there has been a generalised worsening of the epidemic, we are back to an expansionary phase.
“With indicators worsening… the government sees it appropriate to extend the state of emergency to April 30.”
The state of emergency, first introduced in January 2020, had been set to expire at the end of this month but is now extended for another three months.
Italy has registered 79,819 Covid-19 deaths since the pandemic first erupted last February, the second-highest toll in Europe and the sixth-highest in the world.
The country has reported 2.3 million cases to date, and there are currently 570,040 people infected with the virus.
In October, there were around 82,000 people infected with Covid-19.
The extended lockdown comes as the country tackles a coronavirus strain similar to the latest UK mutation, that was already spreading through Italy in August, according to a leading virus expert.
The 'Italian variant' was circulating weeks before the first known cases of the UK strain and could have been a 'precursor' to the mutation in England, according to virologist Arnaldo Caruso.
Meanwhile, the health ministry in Italy confirmed just before Christmas that a couple who had landed in Rome from the UK had tested positive for the new strain and were in quarantine.
“The coming months will be very difficult and we must not think that we are out of danger,” said Speranza, adding that 12 Italian regions were at high risk and eight at moderate risk.
Italy returned to a three-tier system after Christmas, which allowed for different measures to be applied to different regions according to infection levels.
The categories include high-risk red areas, orange medium-risk and yellow low risk districts.
But at a cabinet meeting later, ministers will agree new restrictions, including banning travel between Italy’s 20 regions and takeaways from cafes.
Nationwide night curfews will also continue.
Italy was later than the UK to begin its vaccination programme, with the first doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine given on December 27 to a researcher, a nurse and a social health worker at Rome’s Spallanzani infectious diseases hospital.
The first shipment of 9,750 coronavirus vaccines arrived in Italy on December 25 from Puurs in Belgium.
In France, where there are currently 2.5 million people infected, President Emmanuel Macron is discussing tightening the rules with senior ministers.
A nationwide curfew could be brought forward to 6pm from 8pm, as has already happened in parts of the country, French media reported.
The French government’s top scientific adviser said new restrictions were needed after a more transmissible variant was first detected in the UK.
The country has already extended its UK travel ban indefinitely.
“The coming three months will be difficult, the situation will slightly improve during the spring but should really get better at the end of the summer,” Jean-François Delfraissy told franceinfo radio.
Germany is also likely to have to extend Covid-19 curbs into February, Health Minister Jens Spahn said, as 344,3634 people are currently infected, up almost eight times on three months ago.
The country's schools, non-essential shops, cultural, leisure and hospitality industries are currently locked down until the end of January, with Chancellor Angela Merkel blaming the British virus strain for worrying infection increases.
The German cabinet approved stricter entry controls to require people arriving from countries with high caseloads or where the more virulent variant is circulating to take coronavirus tests.
While Spain is not under national lockdown, experts are calling for stricter rules as the country reported 25,438 new cases yesterday, up from 16,343 cases a week before.
Health Minister Salvador Illa called the data “very worrying”.
“Tough weeks are ahead,” he added, saying that “January will be very complicated.”
While the government has ruled out imposing a national lockdown similar to that seen at the start of the pandemic in March, regional authorities are revising restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread of infections.
Some areas are ordering businesses to close at 4pm and have banned all non-essential travel within their cities.
Spain has also imposed a UK travel ban until February 2 due to the mutant strain.
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