Pope Francis urges vaccines for the poorest as millions of Europeans enter Easter lockdown

Pontiff issues plea to help the vulnerable amid third Covid wave

Millions of Europeans entered the Easter holiday in lockdown as the continent struggles to contain a third wave of Covid-19 and EU leaders try to kick-start their flagging vaccination campaign.
On Sunday, Pope Francis delivered Easter mass in St Peter's Basilica with barely 200 worshippers in the pews.

The whole of Italy was declared a coronavirus “red zone” with tight restrictions introduced for three days and non-essential movement forbidden.

About 20,000 new cases a day are being reported, and more than 110,000 people in the country have died of Covid-19.

Pope Francis appealed to the international community to ensure vaccine supplies reach the poorest countries.

“Everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us, requires assistance and has the right to have access to necessary care,” he said.

Describing vaccines as an "essential tool", Pope Francis called for a “spirit of global responsibility” as he encouraged nations to overcome “delays in the distribution of vaccines and to facilitate their distribution, especially in the poorest countries”.

A new nationwide lockdown in France came into force at the weekend, with  capital city Paris under particular pressure and intensive care units at risk of being overwhelmed.

France has the eighth-highest Covid-related death toll in the world, with more than 96,000 recorded.

In Paris, 6,600 more police officers will be sent to enforce the new measures, which include a ban on travelling more than 10 kilometres and a nationwide curfew from 7pm.

But an allowance over the long weekend will enable people to travel to the countryside from the cities to see out the month-long lockdown.

The national rail authority was expecting 600,000 people to travel at the weekend.

Elderly people in the German city of Cologne queued outside an exhibition centre on Easter Sunday for Covid-19 vaccinations with the AstraZeneca jab.

“Yes, I feel very good. I’m totally happy that I got the vaccination appointment. It was like a little Easter present, after all,” resident Ilse Rexwinkel said.

However, Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said there was a “crisis of trust” and admitted mistakes had been made in relation to testing and vaccinations.

“Trust – in a democracy it rests on a very fragile understanding between citizens and the state: ‘You, state, do your part, I, citizen, do mine,’” he said. “I know that you, the citizens, are doing your part in this historic crisis. You have done much and you have gone without much.

“Your expectation for those in government is ‘Get it together’.”

He called on Germans to “pull together” and put aside “constant indignation over others or over people in high places.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel reversed a decision to impose an Easter lockdown, although people are still being urged to be cautious.

Police turned back 536 people in 790 vehicles over two days in the northern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, traditionally a popular destination for a day trip

State coronavirus lockdown restrictions banned tourism but does allow family visits in certain circumstances.

The EU has been heavily criticised for its slow vaccination campaign. Its member states have lagged behind the Israel, the UAE, Britain and the US.

Some countries restricted use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine after some people developed blood clots, despite European regulators saying it is safe.

UK experts urged people to continue using the AstraZeneca vaccine. They said seven people in the country died from rare blood clots after receiving it.

The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency said 30 blood clot events have been identified out of the 18.1 million AstraZeneca shots given. It said it wasn’t clear whether the inoculation and the illnesses were linked.

“The benefits of AstraZeneca's vaccine in preventing Covid-19 infection and its complications continue to outweigh any risks and the public should continue to get their vaccine when invited to do so,” head of the MHRA Dr June Raine said.

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