Italy launches manslaughter probe into death of teacher, 57, who died a day after being given AstraZeneca vaccine as country re-enters lockdown and EU turns its back on the jab

Italian prosecutors have opened a manslaughter investigation today after a music teacher died on Sunday – a day after receiving AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine. 

The judiciary in Biella, in northern Italy, opened a preliminary probe into the death of 57-year-old Sandro Tognatti, whose cause of death remains unknown. They stressed that there is no link to AstraZeneca’s vaccine at this stage and the probe is intended to establish whether anyone has a case to answer.

It came as Italians woke up to fresh lockdown restrictions today, with 13 of the country’s 21 regions now in a ‘red zone’ meaning schools, restaurants, shops and museums have to close, and people cannot leave their homes except for work, health or other essential reasons.

Another seven regions have been declared ‘orange zones’, meaning shops and beauticians can remain open except during a night-time curfew, while all other venues have to close and travel outside the local area is restricted. Just one region, Sardinia, is in a lockdown-free ‘white zone’. 

Italy also temporarily banned the use of all AstraZeneca vaccines amid fears it causes blood clots, with France and Germany also enacting bans and saying they are waiting for European regulators to give guidance. 

The European Medicines Agency said last week that there is no reason to halt use of the jab and that ‘the benefits outweigh the risks of side effects’, but its investigation is continuing and another report is due Thursday.

It comes after Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Bulgaria also suspended the jabs. Austria, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have impounded one batch of vaccines thought to be linked to clots.

It is just the latest episode in a long-running saga between EU countries and drug-maker AstraZeneca over its vaccine, which has seen ministers accuse the company of nationalism, impose export bans on its jabs, wrongly claim it is not effective in over-65s and reopen old wounds with recently-departed Brexit Britain. 

Europe’s move to ban the jabs also comes despite a third wave of Covid infections building on the continent, with leaders forced to reimpose lockdowns because large portions of their populations remain unprotected.

Doctors in Germany warned the country needs an ‘immediate’ return to lockdown to avoid a ‘strong third wave’, just weeks after measures started easing. 

Paris was also teetering on the brink of tougher measures after intensive care units there overflowed, forcing hospital to evacuate Covid patients by helicopter to neighbouring regions where beds are available. 

Covid cases are also rising sharply across other European countries including the likes of Spain, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands and Sweden. 

It comes after one health worker died and three more got sick from clots shortly after taking the vaccine, though the European Medicines Authority, the World Health Organization and AstraZeneca all insist the vaccine is safe.

Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon both threw their weight behind the jab on Monday, insisting it is safe and effective, while leaders in France and Italy also gave their backing.  

The ban in the Netherlands comes as voters deliver their verdict on the country’s coronavirus response on the first of three days of balloting in a snap election, weeks after a curfew led to several nights of rioting in major cities.  

While Dutch authorities said it was ‘wise to press the pause button now as a precaution’, a series of top UK officials have rejected fears over the Oxford jab, saying the risks of Covid-19 are greater than those of vaccination.  

In Ireland, health officials said there had been a ‘small number of reports’ of blood clots but none of them as serious as those described in Norway.

Irish authorities had recently been pushing AstraZeneca to speed up its vaccine supplies to the Republic, where 117,500 doses of the jab have been used so far.

A government plan to speed up the roll-out anticipates around 50,000 people per week getting the AstraZeneca shot from April to June.  

Ronan Glynn, Ireland’s deputy chief medical officer, said he hoped the delay would last only a week – with lockdown exit plans depending on the vaccine drive. 

‘We have a safety signal and when we get those we have to act and proceed on the basis of a precautionary principle,’ he said. 

‘So hopefully, as this week goes on, we’ll get more reassuring data from the EMA and we can recommence the programme. 

‘It may be nothing, we may be overreacting, and I sincerely hope that in a week’s time we are accused of being overcautious.’  

Meanwhile the UK has brushed off the concerns on the continent, with ministers saying that ‘all is well’ after the tally of people with a first dose passed 24million.