A child disinfects his desk at the Don Milani school in the Vinovo district of Turin, Italy, earlier this month. Diego Puletto-Getty Images

Italy on Thursday saw a massive return to class of 5.8 million kindergartens, primary and middle school kids as the country pressed ahead with its ongoing national vaccination campaign.

The country, on Thursday, logged 18,020 new COVID-19 cases and 414 new deaths over the past 24 hours, pushing the death toll to 77,291 since the country reported its first COVID-19 case in February 2020, the Ministry of Health reported.

Meanwhile, 50 per cent of the country’s 2.6 million high school students are also set to return to school on January 11, with the remaining attending remote learning, according to the education ministry.

Also on Thursday, Italy continued its COVID-19 vaccination drive amid a partial lockdown, with a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and a travel ban between its 20 regions in place on January 7-15.

“One in 27 of our fellow citizens has been infected since the start of the pandemic.

“The overall situation is still critical,” Extraordinary Commissioner for the Coronavirus Emergency Domenico Arcuri told his weekly news conference on Thursday.

“We have vaccinated 326,649 Italians in less than a week,” Mr Arcuri added, in reference to the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine.

Those inoculated included 276,925 healthcare staff, 31,630 “non-healthcare staff” and 18,094 nursing home residents, according to government figures published on Thursday.

The Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine was approved in December by Europe’s drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), for use in people aged above 16 in the 27 member states of the EU.

Italy ranks first in Europe in terms of the vaccination ratio, according to Mr Arcuri, who believed that Italy started out on the right course, which will steer the country “out of this tragedy.”

“Our objective is to vaccinate everyone by fall,” Mr Arcuri said, adding that 80 per cent of this country’s 60 million inhabitants must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

Mr Arcuri also said that the Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA) on Thursday endorsed a second vaccine, developed by U.S. biotechnology company Moderna, following its approval by EMA on Wednesday.

“We hail with enthusiasm the possibility of making available a second instrument for this vaccination campaign, which is obtaining excellent results in Italy,” AIFA Director-General Nicola Magrini said in a statement.

“(The Moderna vaccine) is essentially equivalent to the (Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine),” with highly convincing data obtained from “all at-risk populations,” Mr Magrini specified.

A clinical trial involving around 30,000 participants indicated that the Moderna vaccine demonstrated a 94.1-per cent efficacy in people aged above 18, and a 90.9-per cent efficacy in participants at risk of severe COVID-19, including those with chronic lung disease, heart disease, obesity, liver disease, diabetes or HIV, EMA said in a Wednesday statement.

Italy declared a national state of emergency over COVID-19 on January 31, 2020, and has extended it to January 31 this year.

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