ROME 

Italy reported 8,913 new cases of the novel coronavirus Sunday, dipping below the 10,000 mark for the first time since mid-October.

Health authorities also registered 298 new deaths from COVID-19, up from 261 a day before.

The lower number of daily infections, however, also reflects the smaller number of swab tests administered over the weekend.

Italy is struggling to contain a second outbreak that has proven to be as deadly as the first.

The Italian government has imposed strict restrictions over the Christmas holidays to limit public movements and large gatherings that could spread the virus across the country, possibly sparking a third wave early next year.

The country’s coronavirus vaccination campaign started on Sunday, as five health workers at Rome’s Spallanzani hospital were inoculated with the vaccine jointly developed by German firm BioNTech in partnership with US pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

“Today is a symbolic day that must give the idea of the beauty of Europe, which has bought the vaccines for everybody and distributed them,” Italy’s special commissioner for the emergency, Domenico Arcuri, said on Sunday morning.

The vaccination campaign — which started on Sunday across Europe — comes almost 10 months after the first Italian patient tested positive for the novel coronavirus in northern Italy.

Around 9,750 vaccine doses have already arrived in Italy and another 470,000 are expected to arrive starting next week, the Health Ministry said.

The vaccine will be free of charge and health workers and elderly people will be the first to be offered the voluntary inoculation.

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