After their private talk they exchanged gifts, and Mr. Biden gave the pope a presidential challenge coin that featured Delaware, his home state, and Beau’s Army National Guard unit. “I know my son would want me to give this to you,” he said.

As Francis showed Mr. Biden and Jill Biden, the first lady, to the door, Mr. Biden was in no rush to leave.

He unspooled a folksy yarn that referred to both he and the pope ascending to their positions later in life. In a nod to their ages — he is 78 and Francis is 84 — he relayed a story about Satchel Paige, the legendary Black player who pitched the majority of his career in the Negro Leagues, and who was allowed to join the Major Leagues only in his 40s.

“Usually, pitchers lose their arms when they’re 35,” Mr. Biden said to the pope, who seemed a little lost by the baseball reference. “He pitched a win on his 47th birthday.”

As Mr. Biden explained it, reporters asked the pitcher: “‘Satch, no one’s ever pitched a win at age 47. How do you feel about pitching a win on your birthday?’” and the pitcher responded: “‘Boys, that’s not how I look at age. I look at it this way: How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?’”

The pope looked at Mr. Biden.

“You’re 65, I’m 60,” the president said. “God love ya.”

Jim Tankersley contributed reporting from Rome, and Ruth Graham from Dallas.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

France Arrests Former Members of Italian Extremist Group

PARIS — The French police on Wednesday arrested seven former members of Italian left-wing extremist groups who had been convicted of terrorism crimes in Italy decades ago, but were given refuge in France.

A court will now decide if the militants, arrested at the request of the Italian authorities, can be extradited to Italy, a decision that could take several years depending on appeals.

Dozens of Italian leftist extremists were given refuge in France decades ago by the socialist government at the time if they agreed to renounce violence, a move that long poisoned the diplomatic relationship between France and Italy.

The government’s announcement of the arrests on Wednesday signaled an easing of that troubled relationship, with Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy and President Emmanuel Macron of France managing to establish closer ties in recent months.

Lotta Continua, which translates as “Continuous Struggle,” was also detained in France. Mr. Pietrostefani was sentenced to 22 years in prison for murdering the police chief of Milan, Luigi Calabresi, in 1972.

François Mitterrand, the former socialist president of France, instituted a policy in the 1980s when he was in office of granting asylum to leftist Italian militants — much to the anger of the Italian government, which requested their extradition — providing they renounced violence and were not wanted in Italy for murder or other “crimes of blood.” Some of the militants, like Mr. Pietrostefani, however, had been implicated in such crimes.

One of the beneficiaries of the so-called Mitterrand Doctrine who was arrested on Wednesday was Marina Petrella, a former Red Brigades member who fled to France in 1993 after being convicted of involvement in several murders.

In 2008, President Nicolas Sarkozy rejected a request from the Italian government to extradite Ms. Petrella, citing humanitarian reasons as her health was deteriorating. The refusal provoked outrage in Italy and revived dormant tensions between the two countries.

The French presidency said in its statement Wednesday that the arrests “fall strictly within the framework of the Mitterrand doctrine, since they are blood crimes.”

In 2019, Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister at the time, said that he would “appeal to the French president to return to Italy some fugitives who do not deserve to drink champagne under the Eiffel Tower, but deserve to rot in jail in Italy.”

strategic alliance with Mr. Macron at the European level and Wednesday’s decision testified to this new working relationship.

Marta Cartabia, Italy’s justice minister, said she met with her French counterpart, Éric Dupond-Moretti, and that he had shown a “particular sensitivity” to the case and “decisive will to cooperate.”

Mr. Dupond-Moretti said he hoped the arrests “will allow Italy to turn a bloody and tearful page of its history after 40 years.”

Benedetta Tobagi, an Italian journalist and daughter of Walter Tobagi, a reporter who was killed in 1980 by a left-wing terrorist brigade, welcomed the decision in an editorial in the Italian daily La Repubblica on Wednesday.

But she added, “the anomaly is not the arrests, but the unreasonable persistence of the Mitterrand doctrine, the fact that it took so many years, and so much effort, to unblock the situation.”

Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting from Rome.

View Source

Young Italians Are Accused of Jumping the Line for Vaccines

Last year, in the worst days of the pandemic in Italy, old people died in record numbers. Now, as the country rolls out its vaccination campaign, national authorities have uncovered a rash of line-cutting by younger people and accused them of depriving the elderly and the most vulnerable of their shots.

The national military police, the Carabinieri, are fielding hundreds of reports of vaccine cheating, including by teenagers and people in their early 20s, and the prime minister has felt compelled to weigh in.

“Stop vaccinating people under 60. Stop vaccinating young people,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi said in a news conference last week.

“How can people in all conscience jump the line?” Mr. Draghi added. “Knowing that they leave exposed a person who is over 75 to a risk, a concrete risk of dying, or a fragile person?”

fined for flying to a remote town in order to get vaccinated.

View Source

How Mario Draghi Has Made Italy a Power Player in Europe

ROME — The European Union was stumbling through a Covid-19 vaccine rollout marred by shortages and logistical bungling in late March when Mario Draghi took matters into his own hands. The new Italian prime minister seized a shipment of vaccines destined for Australia — and along with them, an opportunity to show that a new, aggressive and potent force had arrived in the European bloc.

The move shook up a Brussels leadership that had seemed to be asleep at the switch. Within weeks, in part from his pressing and engineering behind the scenes, the European Union had authorized even broader and harsher measures to curb exports of Covid-19 vaccines badly needed in Europe. The Australia experiment, as officials in Brussels and Italy call it, was a turning point, both for Europe and Italy.

It also demonstrated that Mr. Draghi, renowned as the former European Central Bank president who helped save the euro, was prepared to lead Europe from behind, where Italy has found itself for years, lagging behind its European partners in economic dynamism and much-needed reforms.

In his short time in office — he took power in February after a political crisis — Mr. Draghi has quickly leveraged his European relationships, his skill in navigating E.U. institutions and his nearly messianic reputation to make Italy a player on the continent in a way it has not been in decades.

denied her a chair, rather than a sofa, during a visit to Turkey last week, saying he was “very sorry for the humiliation.”

In his debut in a European meeting as Italy’s prime minister in February, Mr. Draghi, 73, made it clear that he was not there to cheerlead. He told an economic summit including heavy hitters like his European Central Bank successor, Christine Lagarde, to “curb your enthusiasm” when it came to talk about a closer fiscal union.

That sort of union is Mr. Draghi’s long-term ambition. But before he can get anywhere near that, or tackle deep economic problems at home, those around him say Mr. Draghi is keenly aware that his priority needs to be solving Europe’s response to the pandemic.

Italian officials say his distance from the contract negotiations, which were completed before he took office, gave him a freedom to act. He suggested that AstraZeneca had misled the bloc about its supply of vaccine, selling Europe the same doses two or three times, and he immediately zeroed in on an export ban.

“He understood straightaway that the issue was vaccinations and the problem was supplies,” said Lia Quartapelle, a member of Parliament in charge of foreign affairs for Italy’s Democratic Party.

On Feb. 25, he joined a European Council videoconference with Ms. von der Leyen and other European Union leaders. The heads of state warmly welcomed him. “We owe you so much,” Bulgaria’s prime minister told him.

Then Ms. von der Leyen gave an optimistic slide presentation about Europe’s vaccine rollout. But the new member of the club bluntly told Ms. von der Leyen that he found her vaccine forecast “hardly reassuring” and that he didn’t know whether the numbers promised by AstraZeneca could be trusted, according to an official present at the meeting.

He implored Brussels to get tougher and go faster.

Ms. Merkel joined him in scrutinizing Ms. von der Leyen’s numbers, which put the Commission president, a former German defense minister, on the back foot. Mr. Macron, who had championed Ms. von der Leyen’s nomination but quickly formed a strategic alliance with Mr. Draghi, piled on. He urged Brussels, which had negotiated the vaccine contracts on behalf of its members, to “put pressure on corporations not complying.”

At the time, Ms. von der Leyen was coming under withering criticism in Germany for her perceived weakness on the vaccine issue, even as her own commissioners argued that responding too aggressively with a vaccine export ban could hurt the bloc down the road.

Mr. Draghi, with his direct talk during the February meeting, tightened the screws. So did Mr. Macron, who has emerged as his partner — the two are dubbed “Dracon” by the Germans — pushing for a more muscular Europe.

Behind the scenes, Mr. Draghi complemented his more public hard line with a courting campaign. The Italian, who is known to privately call European leaders and pharmaceutical chief executives on their cellphones, reached out to Ms. von der Leyen.

Of all the players in Europe, he knew her the least well, according to European Commission and Italian officials, and he wanted to remedy that and make sure she did not feel isolated.

Then, in early March, as shortages of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine continued to disrupt Europe’s rollout and increase public frustration and political pressure, Mr. Draghi found the perfect gift for Ms. von der Leyen: 250,000 doses of seized AstraZeneca vaccine earmarked for Australia.

“He told me that in the days before he was on the phone a lot with von der Leyen,” said Ms. Quartapelle, who spoke with Mr. Draghi the day after the shipment freeze. “He worked a lot with von der Leyen to convince her.”

The move was appreciated in Brussels, according to officials in the Commission, because it took the onus off Ms. von der Leyen and gave her political cover while simultaneously allowing her to seem tough for signing off on it.

The episode has become a clear example of how Mr. Draghi builds relationships with the potential to yield big payoffs not only for himself and Italy, but all of Europe.

On March 25, when the Commission became suspicious over 29 million AstraZeneca doses in a warehouse outside Rome, Ms. von der Leyen called Mr. Draghi for help, officials with knowledge of the calls said. He obliged, and the police were quickly dispatched.

In the meantime, Mr. Draghi and Mr. Macron, joined by Spain and others, continued to support a harder line from the Commission on vaccine exports. The Netherlands was against it, and Germany, with a vibrant pharmaceutical market, was queasy.

When the European leaders met again in a video conference on March 25, Ms. von der Leyen seemed more confident in the political and pragmatic advantages of halting exports of Covid vaccines made in the European Union. She again presented slides, this time authorizing a broader six-week curb on exports from the bloc, and Mr. Draghi stepped back into a supportive role.

“Let me thank you for all the work that has been done,” he said.

After the meeting, Mr. Draghi, however modestly, gave Italy — and by extension himself — credit for the steps allowing export bans. “This is more or less the discussion that took place,” he told reporters, “because this was the issue originally raised by us.”

View Source

Italy Pushes Back as Health Care Workers Shun Covid Vaccines

ROME — Giulio Macciò tested negative for the coronavirus and spent weeks receiving treatment for emphysema in a sealed-off hospital under the care of doctors and lung specialists — and a nurse who had refused to be vaccinated. On March 11, he unexpectedly died. A post-mortem swab found that he had contracted the virus, as had 14 other patients and the unvaccinated nurse who spent her shifts in his midst.

“It makes no sense that a person whose job is to heal the sick gives them Covid and kills them,” said Mr. Macciò’s son, Massimiliano Macciò, who filed a complaint against the San Martino hospital in the northern Italian city of Genoa. He believes that the nurse, one of an estimated 400 who have refused vaccination against Covid-19 at the hospital, infected his father, who died unvaccinated at 79.

As vaccination rollouts build momentum, businesses everywhere are grappling with whether they can require the inoculation of their employees, raising thorny ethical, constitutional and privacy issues around Europe and the United States. But that quandary becomes all the more urgent when the person is your health care worker.

In Italy, the original Western front in the war against Covid, a rash of outbreaks in hospitals where medical workers have chosen not to be inoculated has raised fears that their stance is endangering public health. It has also prompted a forceful response from an Italian government that is struggling to get vaccinations on track.

pronouncement by Italy’s data protection authority that the vaccination status of health workers should be unknown. “But this right exists until it does not limit another person’s right,” Mr. Petralia said.

made some vaccinations compulsory for children, including for measles, and barred the unvaccinated from attending school — a decision backed by Italy’s constitutional court because it also safeguarded public health. In the northern city of Belluno, a court ruled in mid-March that a nursing home that employed several health care workers who chose not to get vaccinated could force them to take paid leave.

Mr. Macciò, whose father died in Genoa, said it made no sense that the people entrusted to care for his father were allowed to potentially harm him. He said he had complained to the doctors, who told him their hands were tied because the nurses were protected by privacy rules.

But amid Italy’s frustration, and the new decree, something appears to be changing. Mr. Macciò said the police had asked for his help in identifying the nurses he saw when going to pick up his father’s belongings.

“I hope some good comes of it,” he said of his father’s death. “These people should change their job.”

Emma Bubola contributed reporting.

View Source

Why Supply Isn’t the Only Thing Stymying Europe’s Coronavirus Vaccine Rollout

On Wednesday, Mr. Draghi said that differing approaches by the regions to vaccinating people over the age of 80 was unacceptable, adding that some “neglect their elderly to favor groups who claim priority based probably on some contractual power.”

In Tuscany, a region usually admired for its health care system, only about 6 percent of people over the age of 80 have been fully vaccinated, prompting a public letter from leading citizens.

“Inefficiency,” they wrote, “produces deaths.”

Matteo Villa, a researcher at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies who has studied the coronavirus pandemic, said that Italy’s strategy of first vaccinating only health care workers had resulted in a bottleneck that made the virus more deadly.

“When the delays came,” he said, “we still had a lot of elderly people to vaccinate.”

Guido Bertolaso, the former head of Italy’s civil protection agency who is now in charge of the vaccine campaign in Lombardy, said the country had failed to act on emergency footing.

He blamed pharmaceutical companies not making good on their promised deliveries for Italy’s problems. “When you plan, you must know where you get the vaccine, at what time, which amount, on a weekly basis,” he said. In any case, he added, “In Italy with planning, we are not very good.”

Avoidable organizational and logistical problems have slowed the rollout and infuriated Italians. In Lombardy, a wealthy northern region at the center of Italy’s outbreak, intensive care wards are still packed with older and dying Italians, making it an emblem of Italy’s missteps.

“Every time the phone rings, I hope it’s them,” said Ester Bucco, 84, from Castiglione Olona, in the Lombardy region, who registered two months ago to get vaccinated but has yet to get an appointment. She walks around the house carrying her home phone and said she had started taking anti-anxiety pills to cope. “I really want to see my grandchildren.”

View Source

Supply Isn’t the Only Thing Stymying Europe’s Vaccine Rollout

On Wednesday, Mr. Draghi said that differing approaches by the regions to vaccinating people over the age of 80 was unacceptable, adding that some “neglect their elderly to favor groups who claim priority based probably on some contractual power.”

In Tuscany, a region usually admired for its health care system, only about 6 percent of people over the age of 80 have been fully vaccinated, prompting a public letter from leading citizens.

“Inefficiency,” they wrote, “produces deaths.”

Matteo Villa, a researcher at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies who has studied the coronavirus pandemic, said that Italy’s strategy of first vaccinating only health care workers had resulted in a bottleneck that made the virus more deadly.

“When the delays came,” he said, “we still had a lot of elderly people to vaccinate.”

Guido Bertolaso, the former head of Italy’s civil protection agency who is now in charge of the vaccine campaign in Lombardy, said the country had failed to act on emergency footing.

He blamed pharmaceutical companies not making good on their promised deliveries for Italy’s problems. “When you plan, you must know where you get the vaccine, at what time, which amount, on a weekly basis,” he said. In any case, he added, “In Italy with planning, we are not very good.”

In Lombardy, a wealthy northern region at the center of Italy’s outbreak, intensive care wards are still packed with older and dying Italians, making it an emblem of Italy’s missteps.

“Every time the phone rings, I hope it’s them,” said Ester Bucco, 84, from Castiglione Olona, in the Lombardy region, who registered two months ago to get vaccinated but has yet to get an appointment. She walks around the house carrying her home phone and said she had started taking anti-anxiety pills to cope. “I really want to see my grandchildren.”

View Source

Europe’s Vaccine Suspension May Be Driven as Much by Politics as Science

Those political considerations rippled across the continent in recent days after someone in Austria who had been given the AstraZeneca vaccine died after developing blood clots. An unremarkable event, it nevertheless prompted that country in early March to stop using a batch of that vaccine. Other countries soon followed suit, raising an alarm about any new reports of blood clotting, rare as they may have been.

In recent days, Spain’s health minister, Carolina Dorias, spoke to her counterparts around the continent, according to an official from the ministry, who asked not to be named because the discussions were private. There was a case of thrombosis detected in Spain last weekend, and some regions had stopped distributing a batch of AstraZeneca vaccines, amid safety concerns.

But the chief motivation was political.

France, too, appeared to bow to pressure to act in unison with its powerful neighbors. It had been relying on the AstraZeneca vaccine to catch up on vaccinations after its glacial start, and Olivier Véran, France’s health minister, had said only days ago said there was “no reason to suspend.”

But after Germany made its intentions clear — and public — Mr. Macron had a choice between following suit or being an outlier. And so on Tuesday, Mr. Véran changed his tune. France, he told Parliament, had to “listen to Europe, listen to all the European countries.”

That was the sort of thing Mr. Speranza, Italy’s health minister, expected might happen after he spoke with his counterpart in Germany, in a discussion recounted by an Italian official with knowledge of it.

When Mr. Speranza brought the issue to Prime Minister Draghi, he noted the unbearable public pressure Italy would face if it alone used a vaccine considered too dangerous for Europe.

Mr. Draghi, a champion of European unity, checked in with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, and with Mr. Speranza decided to suspend AstraZeneca until Europe’s medicines agency gave it the all clear.

View Source

Italy Heads Into Another Lockdown

Italians enjoyed the last weekend outdoors before three-quarters of the population entered into a strict lockdown on Monday, when the government puts in place restrictive measures to fight the rise in coronavirus infections.

A more contagious variant first identified in the United Kingdom, combined with a slow vaccine rollout, led to a 15 percent increase in cases in Italy last week, a worrisome picture for the government run by Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

“I am aware that today’s measures will have an impact on children’s education, on the economy but also on the psychological state of us all,” Mr. Draghi said on Friday. “But they are necessary to avoid a worsening that will make inevitable even more stringent measures.”

Most regions in northern Italy, as well as Lazio and Marche in central Italy and Campania and Puglia in the south, will shut schools and forbid residents from leaving their homes except for work, health or necessity. Among business activities, only supermarkets, pharmacies and a few other stores will stay open, but restaurants will be shut.

In the rest of the country, residents will not be allowed to leave their municipality without reason involving work, health or other necessities, but schools and many stores will stay open.

“We believe that only with widespread vaccinations will we be able to avoid measures like these,” Mr. Draghi added.

Fewer than two million people in the country have been fully vaccinated so far, partly because of late deliveries from the pharmaceutical industries, but also because of logistical problems in some regions. Italy is one of the hardest-hit countries in the world: More than 100,000 people have died of Covid there, and 3.2 million have been infected.

Last Saturday, the government said it aimed to vaccinate at least 80 percent of the population by September. The plan, designed by an army general picked by Mr. Draghi for his expertise in logistics, envisioned administering up to 500,000 doses a day and also hiring junior doctors and dentists to give the injections in a plethora of facilities, such as military barracks, production sites, schools and gyms.

In a cabinet document, the government wrote that it expected to see its vaccination capacity increased in coming months. Deliveries are expected to rise from 15.7 million doses in the first quarter to 52.5 by June, and peak to almost 85 million in the third quarter. After canceling or limiting supplies for weeks, Pfizer-BioNTech should increase deliveries in the near future, while AstraZeneca is still planning a slower rollout of vaccines to Italy. The Piedmont region, however, suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, a precautionary measure while investigations of a possible link to health problems are underway.

The entire country will be on lockdown for the Easter weekend, April 3-5, to prevent the usual large family reunions. As with last Christmas’s restrictions, people will still be allowed to leave their homes once a day.

View Source

Desperate Italy Blocks Exports of Vaccines Bound for Australia

Nevertheless, European governments have been scrambling for more doses. Some have gone ahead without the E.U. and procured Russian and Chinese vaccines; others are eyeing doses sold in a black, or at least gray, market.

The European Union has some additional leverage over the shipment of vaccines because Belgium, the seat of the bloc, is also home to some of the world’s most important vaccine factories, including ones making the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford shots. Italy, Germany and Spain are also home to facilities for several vaccine makers.

The doses blocked by Italy this week had been filled and finished there, though they were expected to be distributed throughout the E.U.

In a statement on Friday morning, Australia’s health minister, Greg Hunt, said his country had enough doses to “take us through” until domestic production begins later this month.

Australia has had fewer coronavirus cases, relative to its size, than almost any other large developed country, and has been recently averaging only nine new cases a day, according to a New York Times database. Italy is averaging more than 18,000 new cases a day, a pace that, adjusted for population is more than 800 times as high as Australia’s.

Still, the vaccine rollout has also been slow in Australia, which had planned to rely heavily on AstraZeneca. The country had signed a contract for 3.8 million AstraZeneca doses made in Europe, a stopgap until a manufacturer in Australia was able to get started on vaccine production.

In January, its expected delivery from Europe was cut to 1.2 million doses amid AstraZeneca’s production problems, despite lobbying efforts by Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne. Only one major delivery has arrived. As of February 28, only 33,702 doses had been administered nationwide, according to government figures.

“There is great prudence in us sourcing a number of vaccines but also starting domestic production as well,” said Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

Benjamin Mueller reported from London and Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels. Emma Bubola contributed reporting from Rome, Monika Pronczuk from Brussels, and Damien Cave from Sydney.

View Source