Italian Prime Minister extends virus lockdown

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ROME, ITALY – March 14: People watch television as Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte delivers his speech on new economic measures due to the coronavirus emergency on March 14, 2020 in Rome, Italy.

Franco Origlia

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte extended the national lockout to contain the coronavirus on Friday, although he said certain types of stores would be allowed to reopen next week.

Draconian restrictions on movement and the closure of most stores and businesses across Italy were imposed on March 9 and were due to expire on Monday.

“It is a difficult but necessary decision for which I take full political responsibility,” Conte said at a press conference.

Among a few exceptions to the lockout extension, Conte said bookstores, stationery stores and stores selling children’s clothing could reopen starting on Tuesday.

Factories closed by lockout still could not resume work, he said, dashing the hopes of industry leaders who warned of economic disaster, with threatened workers’ wages and a possible permanent loss of market share.

However, Conte said he would continue to assess the daily trend of COVID-19 infections and “act accordingly” if conditions permitted, providing a glimmer of hope for month-old tired Italians confined to their homes for all their except essential needs.

Italy has registered nearly 19,000 deaths from the virus since its onset on February 21, more than any other country.

After accelerating steadily until the end of March, the daily count of deaths and infections has decreased and stabilized, but it is not decreasing as sharply as expected.

Conte devoted a large part of the press conference, broadcast live on national television, to harsh criticism of an agreement reached on Thursday by the eurozone finance ministers on a plan to save economies in trouble from the block.

He declared that the agreed instruments were “still insufficient” and that Italy “would fight to the end” to obtain an agreement on the issue of common debt, which the European countries of the North, including Germany and the Netherlands.

Conte, who is under attack by the opposition over the package agreed on Thursday, said it was only a proposal and would not approve it in its current form.

“At the European Council, I will not sign anything until I have an adequate set of measures to meet the challenge we face”, he said, stressing that the common debt, or “Eurobonds” , was Italy’s preferred solution.

Abandoning his usually measured tones, he raised his voice to denounce the “lies and lies” of the opposition led by the leader of the right-wing League, Matteo Salvini, who, according to him, “harms us because they weaken our hand in negotiations ”, with the EU.

Conte said the provision of cheap loans from the euro area bailout fund, as agreed by finance ministers, was a “totally inadequate tool” and Italy did not intend to ask for funding. aid from the fund, known as the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).

He said the ruling coalition, dominated by the 5-star anti-establishment movement and the center-left Democratic Party, recognized that the MES was of no use to Italy and called on the ruling parties to stay united.

“We have to be smart, compact and united,” he said.

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