Italy's government will need to impose new restrictions during the holiday season to rein in contagion and avoid a third, devastating wave of the coronavirus, the prime minister has said in an interview.

"Further, new restrictions are now needed ... we must avert at all costs a third wave, because this would be devastating,also from the point of view of the loss of lives," Giuseppe Conte told La Stampa.

Mr Conte's coalition government is considering more stringent nationwide rules for the Christmas and New Year holidays after crowds flocked to city centres over the weekend just after Rome had relaxed some restrictions put in place last month.

Italy is the European nation with the worst death toll, with more than 65,000 people dying since the outbreak in February.

Mr Conte said a vaccination campaign would have to target some 10 million to 15 million people in order to "have an effective impact on immunity", and that such a goal would be reached by the end of the spring or before the summer at the latest.

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Read more: Latest coronavirus stories

French students to skip classes to self-isolate

French schoolchildren will be allowed to skip classes and stay at home on Thursday and Friday if their families wish to self-isolate ahead of Christmas, Prime Minister Jean Castex has said.

The medical council advising the government on Covid-19 said yesterday that families who planned to host people vulnerable to the coronavirus, such as elderly relatives, should quarantine for a week beforehand if possible.

Schools should not punish pupils who missed the last two days of the academic term, the council added.

Asked if he supported the recommendation, Mr Castex told Europe 1 radio: "Of course."

Governments across Europe are grappling with how to contain a powerful second wave of the virus just as families yearn to gather over the festive period.

France is delaying the reopening of theatres, museums and cinemas and re-imposing a nightly curfew from today, while the Netherlands is going into a tough second lockdown and Germany is shutting down non-essential shops from tomorrow.

Job fears over Germany retail shutdown

The new restrictions in Germany that will shutter most shops to curb the second coronavirus wave have raised fears of thousands of job losses, industry representatives have said.

Without additional government support, "up to 50,000 shops with 250,000 employees might no longer have a future," the German Retail Association (HDE) said in a statement.

The industry can "no longer survive without tailor-made financial assistance", the HDE added.

Germany will close non-essential shops from tomorrow until at least 10 January, in addition to measures already in place since November that have closed bars, restaurants, leisure centres and cultural sites.

To help the affected businesses, the German government is committing €11.2 billion a month in aid. 

That includes raising the ceiling for direct aid to compensate for fixed costs to shuttered firms from €200,000 to €500,000.

Poland cannot ease restrictions yet

Poland cannot loosen Covid-19 restrictions yet and people should stay at home over Christmas and New Year to stop the spread of the coronavirus, senior government ministers have said.

The country is preparing to start its vaccination programme from mid-January and although the number of daily cases has fallen since a surge in early November, the death rate remains high, often above 500 per day.

"It is true that in the last few weeks the situation is better, but we can't pretend that we have defeated the virus, that the situation is so good that we can think about changing direction," Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a news conference.

He said Poland had budgeted around 3 billion zlotys (€675m) for vaccination and that this figure would be almost doubled as it gives funds to medical facilities carrying out vaccinations.

With Christmas approaching, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski urged Poles to stay at home over the festive period to avoid an increased infection rate before the vaccinations start.

"We cannot allow that the vaccinations take place when the pandemic escalates, as it will be difficult to organise an efficient vaccination process," he said.