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Europeans face tighter coronavirus restrictions as vaccine rollout begins

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By Euronews
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Spanish army soldiers carry the first batch of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine in a warehouse in Cabanillas del Campo, outskirts of Guadalajara, central Spain, Dec. 26
Spanish army soldiers carry the first batch of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine in a warehouse in Cabanillas del Campo, outskirts of Guadalajara, central Spain, Dec. 26   -   Copyright  Bernat Armangue/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Austria, Scotland and Northern Ireland entered fresh lockdowns on Saturday as the EU prepares to kick off its COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Sunday.

After a Christmas truce, a third general lockdown entered into force on Saturday in Austria and will run until January 24, authorities said.

Meanwhile, stricter measures came into effect in Scotland and Northern Ireland, including the closure of "non-essential" businesses and limitations of social interactions.

The lockdown imposed on parts of England since December 20 was extended to new areas in east and south-east England. Wales also woke up to tighter restrictions on Saturday after relaxing them for Christmas.

In Ireland and Italy, the new lockdowns started before Christmas in an attempt to prevent further infections over the holidays.

More than 25 million infections have been recorded in Europe, according to AFP's estimates on Friday.

First vaccines deliveries

EU countries are poised to administer their first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine on Sunday, with health care workers and nursing home residents among the first to get shots.

The first deliveries started arriving in EU countries on Saturday, with each Member State receiving approximately 10,000 doses for this initial batch, the Commission told Euronews.

Deliveries will continue in December and on a steady weekly basis during the following months. Brussels has previously said member states would be allocated doses based on their population size.

Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela hailed the arrival of the vaccine on the Mediterranean island state, writing on Twitter: "In the coming days together as a nation we will pave the way to #normality and our daily routine."

His counterpart in Portugal described the delivery of the vaccine as "an extraordinary effort by Science" and hailed "exemplary coordination by the European Union."

"We have several months of well-planned work ahead of us. Now we are sure that there is light at the end of the tunnel," Antonio Costa wrote on Twitter, calling on people, however, not to relax their efforts to ward off the pandemic.

Jens Spahn, Germany's Health Minister, said the vaccine is "key to getting our lives back." He explained also that the most vulnerable and those in care would be prioritised.

Hours before the first vaccine doses arrived in France, French health authorities confirmed the country's first case of the coronavirus variant that prompted new lockdown measures in Britain.

Further cases of the new strain were also detected in Spain and Sweden, authorities said Saturday.