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As Europe Enters 3rd Wave Of Pandemic, France Locks Down And Germany Lacks Vaccines

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Health experts in Europe say the continent is in the midst of a third wave of coronavirus infections. The spread of several highly contagious variants of the virus, combined with a slow vaccine rollout, are making the situation worse. Now, as we heard on yesterday's show, Europe's drug regulator - the European Medicines Agency, or EMA - has cleared the AstraZeneca vaccine for use, saying the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh any risks. Reporter Rebecca Rosman is in Paris and joins us now with more.

REBECCA ROSMAN, BYLINE: Hi.

CORNISH: So the EMA was reviewing the AstraZeneca vaccine amid reports of fatal blood clotting, and some European countries, of course, had suspended use of the vaccine. Are they lifting those restrictions now?

ROSMAN: The majority are now lifting those restrictions, but some have made a couple of adjustments. So here in France, the National Health Authority this morning said it was only recommending AstraZeneca to people aged 55 and up. That's because those who had experienced blood clots, which were a very small number - they were all younger than 55. And to boost confidence, France's prime minister, Jean Castex, who is 55 years old, received the AstraZeneca shot on live television today. Germany says doctors will also now be giving out warnings to patients about the potential risk of blood clotting. And then there are a couple of countries in Europe, including Sweden and Norway, that say they want to finish carrying out their own studies before restarting the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine there.

CORNISH: In France, is being able to use the AstraZeneca vaccine going to help curb the pandemic?

ROSMAN: That's the hope. But many parts of France are about to enter new restrictions, in part because the vaccine rollout has been so slow here. So the Paris region, as well as parts of northern France, are about to enter a one-month lockdown that starts this evening. Yesterday the prime minister said the country was officially in the midst of a third wave and hospitals were at overcapacity.

And less than 9% of the country has received a first shot of the vaccine. That's in part because there's still a lot of vaccine skepticism here in France. And this temporary suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine, of course, did not help that. That being said, the government says it hopes to vaccinate about half the country by mid-June. And restarting the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout here should, in theory, help speed things up to help them get there.

CORNISH: How are European leaders dealing with this reported third wave that's, you know, moving quickly across the continent?

ROSMAN: You know, they're really struggling. And the German health minister talked about this just this morning. Let me just play a little bit of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JENS SPAHN: (Speaking German).

ROSMAN: So what he's saying here is the increase in the number of cases could mean that in the coming weeks, we might not be able to take the steps needed to open up, and the country might actually have to take a few steps backward and tighten restrictions even further. He also said that Europe in general doesn't have enough vaccine doses right now to stop this third wave by vaccination alone. And that means European countries are going to have to resort to other measures like lockdowns to really fight this third wave.

CORNISH: And what's been the reaction from citizens to the idea of new or extended restrictions?

ROSMAN: They're not happy about it. You know, some people have been protesting. In France, you have the hashtag #JeNeMeReconfineraiPas - which means I will not confine again, I will not lock down again - that's trending.

And a lot of people want to travel. Just to give you one example of that, the Spanish island of Mallorca says it is bracing for a huge influx of German tourists over the Easter holiday period. The German government recently removed Mallorca from a high-risk list, though the government is still advising Germans not to travel there. That being said, the airline Eurowings just announced that it was adding 300 flights from Germany to the island because of the high demand. So that's going to be a really big challenge for Europe as the continent enters these new restrictions. Getting people to cooperate may not be as easy this time around as it was with the first wave.

CORNISH: That's reporter Rebecca Rosman in Paris. Thank you for your time.

ROSMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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