Italy under virus curbs again as Dutch, Irish stop AstraZeneca shots

ROME (AFP) – Coronavirus restrictions were reimposed across much of Italy yesterday, while Ireland and the Netherlands became the latest countries to suspend AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 shots over blood clot fears despite the firm and the World Health Organization (WHO) insisting there is no risk.

More than 350 million vaccine doses have been administered globally so far, and the AstraZeneca shot – among the cheapest available – is crucial to roll-outs in poorer parts of the world.

Despite immunisation programmes gathering pace, surges in infections remain a threat and Italian authorities reimposed restrictions on three-quarters of the country until April 6 to suppress an outbreak fuelled by the variant first detected in Britain.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Sunday the government hoped these strict measures and ongoing vaccinations would allow a relaxation of curbs later.

“Each dose of vaccine injected is a step in the direction of the way out of the crisis,” he added.

People walk across the Via del Corso main shopping street in downtown Rome before the government tightened restrictions across most of the country beginning yesterday. PHOTO: AFP

Schools, restaurants, shops and museums will close, including in Rome and Milan, with residents told to stay home except for work, health or other essential reasons.

And while France was hoping to avoid another national lockdown, it was facing a hospital crisis with intensive care beds in the Paris region running out. The coronavirus has killed more than 2.6 million people around the world, with much of humanity going through varying levels of Covid-19 restrictions.

People have been growing weary of the economically painful curbs, however.

The Netherlands – under tight restrictions including an overnight curfew – began three days of voting yein a popularity test of the government’s coronavirus policies.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte was set to win another term in office, but opposition to the restrictions was on display on the eve of the vote in The Hague on Sunday as police used water cannon to clear an anti-government protest.

As they battle virus surges, health authorities in Italy and France have backed the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, as several countries suspended use of the shot over fears it causes side effects such as blood clots.

Ireland and the Netherlands stopped giving out the shot on Sunday, joining Denmark, Norway and Bulgaria.

But the WHO, Europe’s medicines watchdog, AstraZeneca and experts have stressed that the jab is safe and that there is no evidence linking it to the clots.