Italy back to lockdown over Easter weekend amid surging COVID-19 cases

Italy has been placed on lockdown once again amid surging COVID-19 cases.

Starting Monday, Italians in the most populated regions will be required to stay home except for work, health or other essential reasons. Much of the country will be locked down on Easter weekend for the second year in a row.

Ever-mounting numbers of ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients, steadily rising daily caseloads and infection transmission predominantly driven by a virus variant first discovered in Britain have combined to make Italian Premier Mario Draghi's new government apply "red zone" designation on more regions, including, for the first time since the color-tiered system was created last fall, on Lazio, the region including Rome.

Italy lockdown

FILE - A picture taken on March 15, 2020, shows a general view an empty Vatican's Saint Peter's Square.

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In red-zone regions, restaurants and cafes can do only takeout or delivery, nonessential shops are shuttered and residents must stick close to home, except for work, health or shopping for necessities.

Over the weekend, many hair salons extended hours to handle last-minute customers, and crowds thronged shopping streets, parks and seaside promenades before the crackdown took effect.

Cases have been rising across the country in excess of 25,000 a day over the past six weeks, as Italy’s vaccination campaign is hit by delays.

Only a little over 3% of the country is vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

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"Italy is administering about 170,000 doses a day — our aim is to triple that," Draghi said.

Unlike last year, when Italy became the first western county to implement a nationwide lockdown, officials will allow for limited visits to friends and relatives over the Easter holiday.

Pope Francis’ Easter Vigil will likely be held earlier so that worshipers can abide by a 10 p.m. curfew.

Italians in non-essential jobs were also ordered to stay indoors over much of the Christmas and New Year’s holiday.

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"I hope that this will be the last sacrifice asked of our citizens," said Lombardy President Attilio Fontana. Lombardy is a region in northern Italy.

Italian health officials approved Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine on March 12. The doses will be delivered in a month, which leaders said will help efforts to fight back the surge.

The Associated Press and FOX News contributed to this report.