Second European country facing new lockdown over Christmas

Shopping streets crowded during the first day of Yellow Zone in Lombardy during the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic on December 13, 2020 in Milan, Italy (Photo by Alessandro Bremec/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Shopping streets were crowded as restrictions eased last week in Milan, Italy. (Getty Images)

Italy is considering following Germany in introducing tougher coronavirus restrictions over the Christmas holidays as concerns rise over a possible spike in infections.

After restrictions put in place last month were eased, crowds flooded the streets of several Italian cities on Sunday, forcing police to close off popular sites such as Rome’s Trevi fountain.

“The crowds are unjustifiable, irrational, irresponsible,” Italian regional affairs minister Francesco Boccia told La Repubblica, adding that “business and health are not reconcilable at the moment”.

On Saturday, Italy surpassed Britain as the European country with the worst COVID death toll.

The government could decide to put the country under “red-zone” lockdown rules from 24 December till at least 2 January, Italian media reported.

Watch: Festive lights and Christmas shopping bring crowds to central Madrid, despite pandemic

This could mean non-essential movement being banned, curfews being imposed and shops, bars and restaurants being closed on weekends and holidays, with the exception of those selling essential goods.

Earlier this month, Italy’s government approved rules to avoid a surge in infections over Christmas and the new year, banning midnight mass and halting movement between towns.

Travel during the holiday period has also been banned, except for work, health or emergency reasons, and Italians are not allowed to leave their home towns on Christmas, Boxing or New Year’s Day.

A member of the medical staff in a protective suit is seen in front of a patient suffering from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in an intensive care unit at the San Raffaele hospital in Milan, Italy, March 27, 2020. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Italy has surpassed the UK as the European country with the worst COVID death toll. (Reuters)

On Sunday, Germany confirmed it would be imposing another lockdown from Wednesday until at least 10 January after reporting 20,200 new COVID cases and 321 deaths.

Economy minister Peter Altmaier said current measures were not enough and warned that the number of intensive care patients needing treatment would exceed hospital capacity within weeks without harsher lockdown measures over the festive period.

The lockdown will mean all schools and shops closing, and bars and restaurants shutting for six weeks.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said existing restrictions imposed last month had failed to significantly reduce the infection rate.

She acknowledged that the new restrictions would affect Christmas celebrations, but said there was “an urgent need for action” to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed.

Watch: Germany to impose stricter lockdown

In the UK, people will be allowed to form a “limited Christmas bubble” during 23-27 December of members of no more than three households, and travel between coronavirus tiers and UK nations will be permitted during the period.

A spokesperson for Boris Johnson said there were no plans to revise the guidance, despite the UK seeing its own COVID spike.

Read more

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The Tier 2 COVID lockdown rules explained

NHS bosses have warned that the relaxation of the rules could lead to a further spike in cases and deaths in January.

 Iconic red London buses travel along Oxford Street under the newly switched on Christmas Lights. The iconic Oxford Street Christmas lights are now turned on in the famous London shopping street. Ironically we now have at least four weeks of Lockdown with the majority of the shops shut down. (Photo by Keith Mayhew / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
London has now moved to Tier 3 following a surge in cases. (Getty)

NHS Providers head Chris Hopson said the health service is worried that the UK will see a record surge in cases similar to the US did after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, voiced concern about people travelling from areas with high infections to parts of the country with lower prevalence of the virus.

“From a public-health perspective, I have to be perfectly honest, I think this is a mistake,” she said.

Read more: MPs in North of England say London should have been in Tier 3 straight after lockdown ended

Stephen Reicher, a professor of psychology at the University of St Andrews and member of the Independent Sage group, also warned: “We are heading towards disaster.”

He said: “Given high levels of infection across the country and the increasing levels in some areas, such as London, it is inevitable that if we all do choose to meet up over Christmas then we will pay the price in the new year.”

On Monday, health secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that London and parts of South East England will move into Tier 3, the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions, after a surge in infections.

Watch: Matt Hancock announces areas entering Tier 3