Covid: France and Poland increase lockdown measures as infections surge

4 weeks ago
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A woman wears a face mask as walks across a footbridge near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. Photo: 19 March 2021

EPA

France and Poland have reintroduced partial lockdowns as both countries battle a sharp rise in Covid infections in recent weeks.

In Poland, non-essential shops, hotels, cultural and sporting facilities are now closed for three weeks.

The country has the highest new daily rates of Covid cases since November.

Coronavirus cases are also rising exponentially in Germany, with Chancellor Angela Merkel warning it is likely that the country will now need to apply an “emergency brake” and re-impose lockdown measures.

The vaccine rollout across the European Union has been hindered by delayed deliveries, as well as the suspension in several countries of the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, over fears of possible side effects.

What’s the situation in France and Poland?

In France, the partial lockdown took effect from midnight on Friday.

Trains leaving Paris for parts of the country where lockdown restrictions do not apply, such as Brittany and Lyon, were reportedly fully booked hours before the measures were due to come into effect.

Traffic jams were reported on several roads leaving the capital.

The new restrictions are not be as strict as the previous lockdown, with people allowed to exercise outdoors.

Non-essential businesses are shut, but schools remain open, along with hairdressers if they follow a “particular sanitary protocol”.

France has reported more than 4.2 million infections since the start of the outbreak, with nearly 92,000 Covid-related deaths, according to the data compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the US.

Old Town in Warsaw, Poland. Photo: 15 March 2021

EPA

In Poland, the three-week lockdown began on Saturday.

Polish health officials earlier warned the nationwide restrictions were necessary because of a rampant British variant of Covid-19 in the country. The variant now makes up more than 60% of infections.

Poland has had more than two million confirmed infections, and nearly 49,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Germany said on Friday it was now classifying neighbouring Poland as high risk. This means that from Sunday anyone crossing the border from Poland must provide a negative coronavirus test.

What’s the latest on the AstraZeneca vaccine?

Despite assurances from the European medicines regulator that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective, some countries remain reluctant to resume their campaigns using the jab.

Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands are among the countries that have restarted their AstraZeneca vaccination campaigns.

Health authorities in France have recommended that the vaccine be offered only to people aged 55 and over.

Finland’s health authority has announced a pause in its use of the vaccine that will last at least a week. That move, which follows two reports of blood clots in patients who had received the jab in the country, was said to be a precautionary measure.

Meanwhile, Sweden, Denmark and Norway said on Friday that they needed more time to determine whether they should resume AstraZeneca inoculations.

On Saturday, Denmark said that two members of hospital staff in Copenhagen had developed blood clots after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has reviewed the vaccine over fears of a link to blood clots and found the jab was “not associated” with a higher risk of clots.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also urged countries to continue using the AstraZeneca vaccine.

On Friday, experts at the WHO said the vaccine had “tremendous potential to prevent infections and reduce deaths across the world”.

“The available data do not suggest any overall increase in clotting conditions such as deep venous thrombosis or pulmonary embolism following administration of Covid-19 vaccines,” the WHO’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety said in a statement.

Professor Sir John Bell, from the UK government’s vaccine taskforce, said France’s refusal to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to under-55s was “really damaging people’s confidence in vaccines generally”.

“It doesn’t make any sense, the whole thing looks completely crackers,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“If there are clotting problems associated with the vaccines – I am not saying there are, but if there were – they are at a very tiny level compared with the problems you get if you get the disease. If you want to die of a clot, get Covid.”

Meanwhile, other European leaders have sought to reassure citizens that the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab is safe.

Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi, 73, said he would happily have the vaccine, but that he had “not yet made a booking”.

His French counterpart, 55-year-old Jean Castex, received an AstraZeneca dose on Friday.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex is vaccinated with the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, in Saint-Mande

Reuters

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