Germany on Wednesday backtracked on its plan to impose a strict Easter weekend shutdown after public outcry, as the European Union said it would tighten vaccine export controls in a bid to ramp up its stuttering inoculation campaign.
Inoculations across the EU remain stubbornly behind hard-hit countries outside the bloc, which has blamed production and supply problems on its slow rollout.
The melee over vaccines comes as several countries battle third waves of the virus, with some governments looking to impose new anti-virus measures despite widespread lockdown fatigue more than a year into the pandemic.
Germany on Wednesday said it would scrap plans to close most shops in the country over Easter from April 1 to 5 after facing stinging criticism of the plan.
The government instead asked people to stay home over the holiday and Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a mea culpa after reversing the measures.
“This mistake is mine alone,” Merkel said. “The whole process has caused additional uncertainty, for which I ask all citizens to forgive me.”
– ‘Big lesson in humility’ –
Elsewhere on the continent, Belgium said it would bring in a new partial lockdown for four weeks, closing schools and limiting access to non-essential shops as it sought to quell a third wave.
The pandemic “is a big lesson in humility for politicians, for everyone,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in announcing the measures.
Poland meanwhile recorded its highest daily infections with nearly 30,000 new cases, while the Netherlands extended coronavirus restrictions until April 20.
And Norway said it would roll out new restrictions this week, including banning alcohol sales at bars and restaurants.
Vaccines are seen as the way out of the pandemic that has now killed more than 2.7 million people around the world and plunged the global economy into a recession not seen in decades.
More than 479 vaccine doses have now been administered globally, mainly in wealthier countries with Israel, the United States, and Britain leading the pack.
But with demand far outstripping supply, countries are scrambling to secure much-needed jabs, with just a handful of vaccines approved around the world.