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Health workers prepare vaccine doses in Iseo, Italy. Photo: Stefano Nicoli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Italy on Saturday announced it was tightening restrictions in five of the country's 20 regions in an effort curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Driving the news: The announcement comes as health experts and scientists warn of the more transmissible coronavirus variants, per Reuters.

The state of play: For the first time since late January, two regions — Basilicata and Molise — have been placed in the country's red-zone, the strictest tier of Italy's color-coded system.

  • All bars, restaurants and non-essential businesses must close and movement will be severely limited.
  • The tiers (white, yellow, orange and red) are based on infection levels and other factors.
  • In Lombardy, Marche and Piedmont, which were moved from the yellow to the orange zone, restaurants and bars must close except for carry-out. Residents are also not allowed to leave their towns except for emergencies or health and work reasons.
  • Yes, but: The island of Sardinia became the first region to move to the minimally restrictive white zone, according to Reuters.

What they're saying: “Many outbreaks are due to the (new) variants. I am concerned about the progress of the epidemic," said Gianni Rezza, a senior health ministry adviser, per Reuters.

  • "We must keep up our guard and we must intervene promptly and strongly where needed,” Rezza added.

The big picture: Earlier this week, the country extended a ban on non-essential travel between the regions through at least March 27, per Reuters.

  • Italy began its inoculation campaign last year, and has so far administered more than 4.2 million doses of the vaccine. More than 1.3 million people have been fully vaccinated.
  • According to health ministry data, the country recorded 20,499 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, up from 19,886 the day before.
  • More than 2.9 million cases and 97,500 deaths have been reported in Italy since the pandemic began.

Go deeper

Feb 27, 2021 - World

Brazil's capital to enter 24-hour lockdown as coronavirus cases surge

A health care worker administering a coronavirus vaccine in Brasilia, Brazil, Feb. 10. Photo: Xinhua/Lucio Tavora via Getty Images

The Brazilian capital of Brasilia will enter a 24-lockdown on Saturday as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surge, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: Hospitals in Brasilia, the third-largest city in Brazil, have struggled to keep up with hospitalizations from the virus. More than 80% of the city's intensive care beds are occupied, according to Reuters.

Feb 27, 2021 - Health

Supreme Court again OKs indoor church services in California amid pandemic

Photo: Ting Shen/Xinhua via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that five California churches in Santa Clara County are exempt from a health directive prohibiting indoor gatherings, and are now permitted to resume services indoors.

Why it matters: The late Friday action is the latest in a string of orders directing state and local governments to whittle down public-health orders intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Feb 27, 2021 - Health

Tracking coronavirus variants through sewage

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Wastewater is proving a valuable resource to genetically track the spread of the coronavirus — and the emergence of new variants.

Why it matters: As long as widescale testing and genetic surveillance remains constrained, we'll always be a step behind COVID-19. But sequencing sewage presents a cheap and simple way of keeping tabs on viral spread within a community.