Millions Spend Easter Weekend Under COVID-19 Lockdowns


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Millions of people worldwide are under new lockdown restrictions this Easter weekend thanks to coronavirus infections that have surged despite the continued rollout of vaccination campaigns.

Italy imposed a strict three-day nationwide lockdown Saturday, preventing large gatherings in St. Peter's Square for the second year in a row.

New lockdown measures take effect Sunday in France, where a fast-spreading new variant has filled intensive care units. Restrictions were also recently imposed in Belgium and other European countries.

Across the Atlantic, the Canadian province of Ontario entered its third lockdown with limited 28-day restrictions on Saturday, as more dangerous variants spread and hospitalizations increase. New restrictions were also imposed in British Columbia and Quebec.

Brazil is experiencing one of the world's worst outbreaks as a more contagious variant first detected in the country continues to spread, alarming other Latin American countries.

While Bolivia closed its border with Brazil, Chile has sealed all its borders, and Ecuador and Peru have gone into lockdown.

As vaccination initiatives to help contain the spread of COVID-19 struggle to keep pace with infections, the U.S. on Friday announced that it became the first nation to fully vaccinate 100 million people. The announcement came just more than a week after the Biden administration reached its goal of administering 100 million single shots.

Cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, however, remain on the rise in some regions of the United States.

"I plead with you. Don't give back the progress we've all fought so hard to achieve," Biden said Friday. "We need every American to buckle down and keep their guard up in this homestretch."

Earlier this week, Biden also said "at least 90% of all adults in this country will be eligible to be vaccinated by April the 19th, just three weeks from now, because we have the vaccines. For the vast, vast majority of adults, you won't have to wait until May 1st."

Compared with the U.S., European nations are struggling to get vaccination programs up to speed.

The World Health Organization said only 10% of Europe's population has received one vaccine dose, and just 4% have received two doses. One reason for the lag among European nations is their reliance on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Although there have been reports of blood clotting in some people who have received the shot, the drugmaker rejects this assertion and has found no evidence connecting the vaccine with blood clots. Nevertheless, Canada, France, Germany and the Netherlands allow the use of the vaccine only in older people.

Britain's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency urged people Friday to continue taking the AstraZeneca vaccine, saying it was unsure if it was causing the clots while acknowledging that seven of the 30 recipients who developed clots in the country had died. More than 18 million doses of the vaccine have been administered.

Britain is reliant on the AstraZeneca vaccine, developed at the University of Oxford, to vaccinate about 46% of its population. It also uses the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. In the U.K., new coronavirus infections are hovering around 3,400 a day, and on Saturday, it recorded 10 coronavirus-related deaths, the lowest daily number since September.

In France, four people have died of blood clots after receiving the AstraZeneca shot. The family of a 38-year-old woman has filed a criminal complaint seeking a manslaughter investigation.

In other U.S. developments, the Centers for Disease Control updated guidance to say that fully vaccinated people can travel without observing quarantines, although they should still wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands often, the U.S. health agency cautioned.

It also issued guidance to the cruise ship industry, saying COVID-19 vaccinations were necessary before they could resume passenger voyages.

"COVID-19 vaccination efforts will be critical in the safe resumption of passenger operations," the CDC said.

The CDC said it would issue additional guidance before it would allow cruises to resume, according to Reuters.

The Cruise Lines International Association, which represents Carnival Corp., Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruises and others had pushed the CDC to issue new guidance. In a March 24 statement, the industry said the "lack of any action by the CDC has effectively banned all sailings in the largest cruise market in the world." It did not immediately comment on Friday, according to Reuters.

Worldwide, there have been more than 130 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 2.8 million deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The U.S. leads all nations with 30.6 million cases of the virus, followed by Brazil with 12.9 million infections and India with 12.3 million cases.