POLAND will plunge into a new national lockdown this week as the Covid vaccine chaos leaves Europe in crisis.
The neighbouring Czech Republic is also seeing a devastating fourth wave and now has the highest infection rate in the world.
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Italy entered a new national shutdown on Monday and today France's prime minister called for a lockdown in Paris where hospitals have been overwhelmed.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is also under pressure to extend lockdown by at least a month as cases soar.
Meanwhile EU boss Ursula von der Leyen dramatically threatened to seize AstraZeneca vaccine factories as the Continent jabs fiasco spiralled deeper into the mire.
It comes as:
- Matt Hancock wrote to Sun readers to assure them the AstraZeneca jab is perfectly safe and there is no risk of blood clots
- He will give a press conference tonight as the UK passes the 25million jab mark
- Boris Johnson revealed he would be getting the AZ jab in the coming days
- All over 50s in Britain are now being invited for the jab
Poland recorded 25,052 new coronavirus cases today, the highest daily total of the year.
There were 453 deaths, taking the total to 48,032.
Around 52 per cent of new infections are linked to the Kent variant first discovered in the UK late last year.
Poland has been trying to contain the surge with regional lockdowns, but has now acknowledged national restrictions are needed.
Theatres, shopping malls, hotels and cinemas will close from Saturday until after the Easter holidays, and all schools will also move entirely to online learning.
Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said: “We no longer have the ability only to bring forward regional restrictions.
“The only way forward right now is to broaden these restrictions to all of Poland.
“If this move does not result in easing the pandemic, or at least in slowing down the third wave, the next steps would be a typical lockdown… in which we would be closing absolutely everything.”
The Czech Republic escaped with a relatively tiny number of cases and deaths in the first wave of the pandemic thanks to a fast lockdown.
But shambolic reopenings of cafes and confused government policies have allowed three much bigger waves to devastate the country since September.
The nation of 10.7million people now has more than 1.4million cases, the highest per capita infection rate in the world.
Its grim death toll of almost 24,000 is also alarming experts who say more needs to be done.
Schools have been closed for more than a year, the longest in Europe.
Viral sequencing expert Jan Pačes told Al Jazeera: "We are in a spiral that can only end if we introduce even heavier restrictions for longer periods of time.
"That would mean shutting down all economic activity and convincing people to stay home.
"As it stands, the economy is on the verge of collapse and most people have run out of financial and moral capacity to follow the rules."
He added the country's "entire vaccination programme had been a disaster from the beginning" with a lack of syringes even when they had doses.
Earlier today French PM Jean Castex finally called for a lockdown in Paris as the country struggles under a deadly Covid third wave.
Authorities reported almost 30,000 new cases across the country today.
It comes as the French government airlifted patients from Paris using special planes as hospitals reached breaking point amid the chaos of the Europe's vaccine rollout.
Weekend lockdowns in the French capital are among stricter measures being considered to try to get the virus under control.
“It seems to me that the time has come to consider new measures in the greater Paris region,” Castex said in an interview on BFM TV.
“There is no reason why we shouldn’t do in one region what we are doing in another.”
Nice, the French Riviera and Dunkirk were among the hardest-hit areas plunged into weekend lockdowns, but Paris and its suburbs have so far escaped the restrictions that were imposed in February.
The French PM’s remarks come as the country’s death toll rose to 91,196, according to latest data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The health ministry said there were 4,239 Covid patients in intensive care, setting a four-month high.
The new wave of cases comes amid the shambles of the EU's vaccine rollout, which has been hampered by production delays, political infighting and public scepticism over the AstraZeneca jab.
France has given only 5.3million jabs , compared to more than 25million in the UK.
President Emmanuel Macron still hopes vaccinations can prevent the worst effects of a third wave, and stop France from resorting to a third national lockdown.
But suspension of the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, announced on Monday over safety concerns, threatened to jeopardise the strategy.
Yesterday the European Medicines Agency confirmed there is “no indication” the AstraZeneca jab causes blood clots.
In a dramatic U-turn, France and Italy announced they would resume use of the jab, after admitting the ban was politically motivated.
French Europe Minister Clement Beaune yesterday admitted the suspension heaped "political pressure" on AstraZeneca amid the ongoing supply dispute.
He told Radio Classique: “Europe is not going to be some sort of cuddly 'care bear' that hands over its money and expects nothing in return."
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