Italian PM Conte announces more restrictions as cases rise

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A delivery man passes near St. Peter’s Basilica, as Italy tightens measures to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Rome, Italy.Remo Casilli | Reuters

Italy has announced a series of new restrictive measures aimed at stemming a second wave of coronavirus cases.From Monday, local mayors will have the power to close public spaces, such as squares and streets, after 9 p.m. in order to limit public gatherings which have been seen as one of the main reasons for a new peak coronavirus infections.

Announcing the new restrictions on Sunday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said bars and restaurants are allowed to stay open until midnight (but can be closed earlier if local leaders deem it necessary) if there is service at the table, but must close at 6 p.m. otherwise. Social gatherings in bars and restaurants are limited to six people per table.

“We must not waste time,” Conte said, announcing the new measures in a televised speech. “The country cannot allow another foreclosure that would seriously jeopardize the entire economy. ”

Other measures introduced include the encouragement of distance learning for older pupils and staggered entry times to schools for other pupils. Contact sports at amateur level remain banned and gymnasiums and leisure facilities have to adapt to the new measures. Local festivals are also prohibited.

As of Sunday, 11,705 new infections were reported, up from 10,925 on Saturday and 10,010 the day before, according to government data. Italy has recorded a total of 414,241 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Conte said on Sunday that the current strategy to curb the spread of infections “is not, and cannot be, the same as that implemented in the spring.

Then, at the onset of the pandemic, Conte said, Italy had not been prepared with enough intensive care equipment and masks, nor able to do enough testing. Since then, she has purchased equipment, produced and distributed millions of masks among students and performed up to 160,000 tests per day.

Italy was the epicenter of the initial coronavirus outbreak in Europe in February, with the first clusters of cases seen in Lombardy, before spreading to other parts of northern Italy and further into the rest of Europe.

Italy was the first part of Europe to introduce a local, then regional, and finally national lockdown in early March to stop the spread of the virus, meaning that all but food retailers and pharmacies have closed and that people could only leave their homes for essential reasons.

The Italian economy was hit hard by the lockdown earlier this year. The latest economic forecast from the International Monetary Fund forecasts that the Italian economy will contract by 10.6% in 2020. Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco said in an interview with Bloomberg on Friday that at least it will take two years for the country’s economy to return to pre-Covid levels.

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