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Covid-19 cases in Italy hit their highest level in months this week as manufacturing problems caused vaccines to reach Italy at a slower-than-expected pace, forcing some regions back into lockdowns to prevent another surge in one of the world’s hardest-hit countries.
Italy reported more than 24,000 new coronavirus infections on Friday, the largest one-day increase in three months and almost double the country’s daily infection rate for early February, according to government figures.
Italian officials have blamed this latest surge on a more contagious coronavirus variant first discovered in the United Kingdom, which has swept through Italy’s schools and became the country’s dominant strain last month.
The country is still well below its peak last fall: In November and early December, Italy reported more than 40,000 cases and 800 deaths on some days.
About 5.2 million coronavirus vaccines have been administered in Italy so far, or 8.7 doses per 100 people, roughly in line with the European Union’s average but less than half the United States’ vaccination rate. Italy views vaccines as a way of escaping its latest surge, but vaccination efforts across the European Union — which negotiated vaccine deals for all member countries as a bloc — have been mired by unexpected manufacturing delays. The Italian government blocked AstraZeneca from shipping doses to Australia this week, and Lombardy officials have pleaded with the government to send extra doses to the region.
99,578. That’s how many total coronavirus deaths Italy has reported since the start of the pandemic. Italy’s outbreak is the second deadliest in Europe in terms of total fatalities, after the United Kingdom, and the sixth deadliest in the world.
Last spring, Italy was the first country outside China to grapple with a major coronavirus outbreak. The country quickly imposed tight lockdowns and travel restrictions, causing cases to subside over the summer, but months after officials lifted those lockdowns, hospitals filled up and deaths soared yet again in the fall. The country has left some of its travel and social distancing restrictions in place since last fall’s peak, but the emergence of new variants has public health experts worried about a third wave of infections and deaths.
Coronavirus infections increased across Europe last week, including in Poland and the Czech Republic, a trend the World Health Organization blamed on new variants and an increased tendency to relax social distancing habits.