BERLIN, Germany (AFP) — Europe grappled with resurgent coronavirus infections yesterday as Germany considered extending restrictions into April and EU leaders abandoned plans to attend a summit on the pandemic.
Thousands of protesters angry at COVID-19 restrictions rallied in cities across Europe over the weekend, even as several nations reimposed partial lockdowns to fight new surges in infections.
A memo from several of Germany's regions, seen by AFP, said the country's partial lockdown should be extended into April because of rising infection rates driven by COVID variants.
Travel needed to be cut to a minimum, with quarantines and negative test results required for those re-entering Germany, the memo warned, media reports suggesting the current restrictions could be extended until April 18.
The prospect of further curbs will infuriate the thousands of protesters who marched against existing restrictions in the Germany city of Kassel on Saturday.
Police there used a water cannon, batons and pepper spray to disperse the crowds, which they estimated to number up to 20,000.
Protesters also marched in Amsterdam, Vienna, the Bulgarian capital Sofia, and Switzerland over the weekend.
In the southern city of Marseille around 6,500 people took part in a carnival parade, flouting the new restrictions that came into force this weekend to try to stem surging infection numbers.
Britain yesterday warned the EU over its threat to halt exports of AstraZeneca's vaccines, in a row that has heightened post-Brexit tensions between London and Brussels.
“If contracts get broken, and undertakings, that is a very damaging thing to happen for a trading bloc that prides itself on the rule of law,” Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News.
Anglo-Swedish pharma giant AstraZeneca has delivered only 30 per cent of the 90 million doses it promised the EU for the first quarter, infuriating European leaders and complicating the continent's already struggling roll-out.
Brussels has accused London of operating its own de facto export ban to achieve its vaccine success, a claim furiously denied by the British Government.
The coronavirus, which has killed more than 2.7 million people, has been spreading faster recently, with new infections up globally by 14 per cent in the last week according to AFP data.
The EU said yesterday that a summit scheduled for Thursday and Friday in Brussels will not be held in person because of the accelerating third wave of the coronavirus in Europe.
Residents in Poland, parts of France, and Ukraine's capital Kiev were the latest to face fresh curbs from Saturday.
But restrictions were also returning in parts of Asia.
Churches in the Philippines' capital Manila will be closed, eating inside restaurants banned, and leisure travel outside the city curbed under new rules unveiled yesterday as infection figures climb.
And in northern India, the Government warned that a huge Hindu religious gathering could turn into a superspreader event, calling for increased testing.
The annual Kumbh Mela festival has already been shortened from three months to 30 days but is still causing headaches for authorities.
Large crowds of pilgrims — mostly maskless — have flocked to the festival, with more than three million pilgrims taking part one day earlier this month.
US authorities have meanwhile imposed a state of emergency and a curfew in Miami Beach, Florida, to deal with uncontrollable crowds partying during spring break.
With approximately 13 per cent of US residents vaccinated, many seemed convinced against all the evidence that the pandemic is now under control in the world's worst-hit nation.
“Just go get your vaccine y'all so that you could come out here and have a good time like us because we vaccinated, baby,” Jalen Rob, a student from Texas, told AFP.
But health expert Anthony Fauci stressed that people still needed to remain cautious — or there may be more spikes in infections.
“Vaccines are coming on really well,” he told NBC on Saturday. “If we can just hang on a bit longer, the more people get vaccinated, the less likelihood that there is going to be a surge.”
For the first time, the US administered more than three million doses of COVID-19 vaccine for two consecutive days, according to official figures published Sunday.
Hopes of ending the pandemic have been boosted with the roll-outs which have begun in some poorer parts of the world as well, including the Palestinian Territories which was due to start giving out shots yesterday.
Brazil said yesterday it was lifting its requirement for local authorities to reserve half their coronavirus vaccine stockpiles for second doses, seeking to accelerate its lagging immunisation campaign and curb a deadly COVID-19 surge.
And South Africa's health minister said the Government has sold a million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for distribution in 14 fellow African nations.
The United Nations defended its decision to accept free COVID-19 jabs for its staff in Kenya even though the Government there hasn't finished vaccinating its own vulnerable citizens.