Italy imposes lockdown measures as circumstances spike throughout Europe.
A year after Italy became the first European country to impose a national lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the nation has become eerily silent again. New restrictions were put in place on Monday to halt a third impending wave of infections flooding Europe and overwhelming its program to end mass vaccination.
When explaining the measures on Friday, Prime Minister Mario Draghi warned that Italy was facing a “new wave of contagion” caused by more contagious variants of the coronavirus.
Italy was still not alone.
“We have clear signs: the third wave in Germany has already started,” said Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases, during a press conference on Friday. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban predicted that this week would be the toughest since the pandemic began in terms of allocating hospital beds and breathing equipment and mobilizing nurses and doctors. Hospital stays in France are at their highest level since November, prompting authorities to consider a third national lockdown.
Cases are increasing across Europe. Supply bottlenecks and vaccine skepticism as well as bureaucracy and logistical obstacles have slowed the pace of vaccinations. Governments lock down exhausted populations. Street protests turn violent. A year after the virus spread across Europe, things feel worryingly similar.
In Rome, the empty streets, closed schools, closed restaurants, and canceled Easter holidays came a relief for some residents after months of climbing infections, clogged hospitals, and deaths.
“It is a relief to be banned again, because after everything that has happened, people of all ages have behaved for months as if there was no problem,” said Annarita Santini, 57, when she was riding her bike in front of the Trevi Brunnen drove, a popular site that had no visitors except for three policemen. “At least that way,” she added, “the air can be cleared and people will be scared again.”
Italy had relied on a color-coded system of restrictions for months that, unlike last year’s blanket lockdown, sought to surgically stifle emerging outbreaks to keep much of the country open and going. It doesn’t seem to have worked.
“History repeats itself,” Massimo Galli, one of Italy’s best virologists, told Corriere della Sera on Monday. “The third wave has started and the variants are running.”
“Unfortunately, we all have the illusion that the arrival of vaccines would reduce the need for more drastic closures,” he said. “But the vaccines didn’t arrive in sufficient quantities.”