Italy to start tough new Covid-19 restrictions as Germany warns against easing measures

Schools, restaurants, shops and museums to close across most regions on Monday

epa09071760 People visit the Royal Gardens taking advantage of the beautiful day and the last weekend before the strengthening of coronavirus measures from 15 March on, in Turin, Italy, 13 March 2021.  EPA/JESSICA PASQUALON
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Italy will introduce tough Covid-19 restrictions on Monday following a "new wave" of infections.

It comes a year after the country imposed one of the world's first national lockdowns.

Schools, restaurants, shops and museums were ordered to close across most regions of Italy, including Rome and Milan, from next week.

The government is also expected to impose a three-day total lockdown over Easter.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Italy faced "a new wave" of infections.

Health minister Roberto Speranza told la Repubblica the coming weeks "would not be at all easy" but added that tough measures and a rise in vaccinations would hopefully see a fall in virus numbers by the second half of spring.

On Saturday, the government said it aims to have 80 per cent of the population vaccinated against Covid-19 by the end of September.

Just under 2 million people in Italy – or roughly 3 per cent of the population – had been fully vaccinated as of Saturday.

It has been reporting about 15,000 new coronavirus cases a day, with numbers rising steadily and government advisers warning that the health system is under growing strain.

A ban on ski resorts, imposed before Christmas, has been extended until April, dashing the last hopes of operators to reopen their lifts.

Italy has reported more than 100,000 Covid-related deaths, Europe's second-highest tally after the UK.

On Saturday, German health experts warned against any further easing of coronavirus lockdown measures after seeing the number of cases jump due to the spread of the more infectious variant first detected in Britain.

"We can only have more relaxation if there are stable or falling case numbers," Karl Lauterbach, health expert for the Social Democrats, told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper, adding this was unlikely to happen soon.

Germany's Covid-19 cases have been rising again for the past few weeks as some restrictions were lifted.

Frustration about the ongoing lockdown and the slow pace of vaccinations has been damaging support for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.

Her Christian Democrats have seen support slip in the states of Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, where elections on Sunday will be a crucial gauge of popular feeling before a federal election in September.

Protesters were due to gather in Berlin to demonstrate against the lockdown on Saturday as Germany reported another 12,674 Covid-19 cases and 239 deaths, with the number of cases per 100,000 over seven days jumping to 76.1 from 72.4.

Germany's death toll from the virus stands at 73,301, out of 2,558,455 cases.

Ms Merkel and state leaders agreed to a phased easing of restrictions earlier this month along with an "emergency brake" to let authorities reimpose curbs if case numbers rose above 100 per 100,000 on three consecutive days.

Leaders are due to meet again on March 22 to discuss whether any further relaxation of the rules is possible.

However, the head of Germany's public health agency warned on Friday that the country is at the start of a third wave of the pandemic.

Stefan Pilsinger, a doctor and member of parliament for the sister party of Ms Merkel's ruling Christian Democrats, predicted that the spread of the British variant could cause a jump in cases like that seen around Christmas.

"The previous lockdown measures were already insufficient to contain the more dangerous British Covid-19 variant," he said.