Europe could have herd immunity against Covid-19 by July, as incoming vaccines are expected to speed up the continent’s vaccination roll-out, an EU Commissioner has said.

Europe could have herd immunity against Covid-19 by July, as incoming vaccines are expected to speed up the continent’s vaccination roll-out, an EU Commissioner has said.
Thierry Breton, the commissioner for the internal market, told French broadcaster TF1: “Let’s take a symbolic date: by 14 July, we have the possibility of achieving immunity across the continent.
“We’re in the home stretch, because we know that to beat this pandemic there’s just one solution: vaccination. The vaccines are arriving.”
The note of optimism comes even as several European countries have started reimposing restrictions as they contend with surging coronavirus infections, and after mixed messaging on the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
More than one third of France’s population is now under renewed lockdown, while frustrations over virus curbs spilled into weekend demonstrations in Germany, Amsterdam, Bulgaria and Switzerland.
Latest coronavirus stories
Europe’s battle to prevent a deadly third wave of infections has been complicated by a patchy vaccine drive that included several nations temporarily halting AstraZeneca’s shots in response to isolated cases of blood clots.
Protests against restrictions in Kassel, Germany
Most have since resumed using the vaccine after the European Medicines Agency found it “safe and effective”.
But AstraZeneca has delivered only 30% of the 90 million doses it promised the EU for the first three months of the year.
Mr Breton said he was confident more vaccines will arrive soon, with 300-350 million doses expected between now and June.
He added that 55 factories would now be producing vaccines in Europe.
Meanwhile, the Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said controls used earlier in the pandemic are not working as effectively to contain new variants of Covid-19.
Professor Martin McKee said the variants, in particular the variant first detected in the UK and increasingly the one first detected in South Africa, are more transmissable and are leaving people infected for a longer time.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, he said that these variants are evading many restrictions and while some countries are beginning to turn a corner, others that were relatively unaffected before now, such as Finland and Estonia, are seeing rising case numbers.
Prof McKee said a fourth wave of the virus is clearly under way in countries including France, Germany, Hungary and Austria.
He said that there are not many alternatives to increased restrictions and the better weather should make it easier to meet outdoors.
He also said there is a long way to go to reach a critical mass of vaccinations across Europe and the world.
We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage PreferencesGermany set to tighten restrictions into April 
Germany is set to prolong and tighten a partial lockdown into April as new virus cases soar, according to a draft document seen by AFP ahead of a government meeting today.
Europe’s biggest economy had begun easing restrictions, first reopening schools in late February, before allowing some shops to resume business in March. 
The meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 states was originally scheduled to discuss further relaxation, but a third wave of the virus driven by new variants has changed the agenda dramatically.
Lifting restrictions on dining, cultural and leisure facilities will now have to be delayed and instead, worst-hit areas may have to reimpose restrictions and order shops to close again. 
“Without significant restrictions, the number of new infections will increase to the point that the health system risks being overwhelmed by April,” the draft reads.
Requirements that employees work from home whenever possible will be extended to 18 April, according to the document, instead of ending on 28 March.
To prevent any contagion at the workplace, companies will be required to provide at least two rapid tests a week to employees who are unable to work from home, it said.
Medical staff at a Covid-19 test station ahead of a 3. Liga match between Hansa Rostock and Hallescher FC at Ostseestadion in Rostock, Germany
With an eye on upcoming Easter school holidays, those who go abroad would be required to be tested and go into quarantine when they return to Germany. 
Authorities also intend to bring in additional lockdowns at the local level. 
Yesterday, the incidence rate of infections measured over seven days reached 103.9 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Ms Merkel and regional leaders agreed at the last round of talks that authorities would tighten the screws again if that rate struck 100.
“Unfortunately, we are going to have to use these emergency brakes,” the Chancellor warned on Friday. 
The draft document calls for these brakes to be brought in wherever they are necessary, and to be applied consistently across the country. 
It lays the groundwork for the closure of some schools that have only just reopened, and urges people to avoid travelling over Easter. 
Health authorities warned on Friday that coronavirus case numbers are rising at a “very clearly exponential rate”.
Illegal Marseille street party causes anger
More than 6,000 mostly unmasked people took part in an illegal street party in the southern French city of Marseille at the weekend, leading to condemnation of an “unaccceptable” breach of Covid-19 rules.
The carnival-type gathering in the port city drew mostly young people, many of whom expressed frustration at restrictions on gatherings and the closure of bars and nightclubs during the pandemic.
Marseille was not among the 16 different regions which entered a fresh lockdown on Saturday, with its current caseload lower than national hotspots such as nearby city Nice along the Mediterranean coast or the capital region.
“It’s completely unacceptable at a time when all of us are making efforts, are adapting and organising ourselves to respect the different rules in order to fight against the pandemic,” interior ministry spokeswoman Camille Chaize told Franceinfo radio.
Nine people had been arrested and dozens had been fined, she said.
The mayor of Marseille Benoit Payan said he was “outraged” by the event, adding on Twitter: “Nothing justifies that we undermine our collective efforts to keep the virus at bay.”
The French government introduced a limited lockdown on Saturday for around a third of the population, with all non-essential shops shut and travel banned in these zones, but schools are open and people are allowed to leave their homes at will.
Over the New Year period, around 2,500 young people broke a national curfew to attend an illegal rave in northwest France which embarrassed the government and led to questions as to why the partying was allowed to continue for two nights by the police.
New Zealand drafts plans for Australia travel bubbleNew Zealand is finalising a long-awaited travel bubble with neighbouring Australia and will reveal next month when trans-Tasman trips can resume, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said.
Speaking almost exactly a year after New Zealand closed its borders as Covid-19 swept across the globe, Ms Ardern acknowledged many Kiwis were impatient for quarantine-free travel to and from Australia.
But she said the government would exercise the cautious approach that has seen New Zealand largely contain the virus, with just 26 deaths in a population of five million.
“Many New Zealanders are nervous, they don’t want to put everything we’ve fought so hard for at risk,” she said during a press conference.
Before the pandemic, Australia was New Zealand’s largest source of overseas visitors and many New Zealanders have relatives living across the Tasman.
Passenger pictured arriving at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport from Auckland in October 2020
All overseas arrivals to New Zealand must currently undergo two weeks quarantine, but Ms Ardern said she would make an announcement on 6 April about when the requirement will be waived for arrivals from Australia.
She said aspects of the plan were still being finalised, including contact tracing arrangements and making sure airlines were ready.
She said a key consideration was what would happen if there was a major virus outbreak in Australia, prompting thousands of visiting New Zealanders to try to rush home.
Australia has allowed quarantine-free travel for New Zealand arrivals since October, although the arrangement has been briefly suspended a number of times due to virus outbreaks in Auckland.
Australia has also been one of the most successful countries in containing the coronavirus pandemic, with fewer than 1,000 deaths and around 29,000 cases in a population of 25 million.