Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte held off pressure to impose radical restrictions on Italy, betting his government can slow the spread of the coronavirus and protect the economy with more targeted measures.
The premier signed a new decree Sunday night -- only five days after a previous package -- urging mayors to close piazzas and streets at 9 p.m. to stop crowds gathering, and imposing a maximum of six people per table at restaurants which must close at midnight. Amateur and school competitions for contact sports are banned.
“We must act, deploying all the measures necessary to avert a new generalized lockdown,” Conte said in a televised news conference. “The country cannot afford a new setback which would severely jeopardize the whole economy.”
Conte has been under pressure from coalition partners, regional leaders and medical advisers to take action after seeing the number of daily infections mount over recent weeks, albeit at a slower pace than in France and the U.K. Italy posted a record 11,705 new infections on Sunday, compared to 10,925 Saturday.
The government’s priority is protecting as much as possible an economy that was crippled by a long and strict lockdown in the spring, according to a government official who declined to be named in line with policy. The administration also aims to keep schools open to help working for parents, the official said.
“The third quarter which has just ended signals a vigorous recovery for our country, better than France, Germany and Spain,” Conte said.
Government ministers including health chief Roberto Speranza had lobbied Conte for more home-based education for high schools, and tighter restrictions on nightlife with earlier closures for bars and restaurants, the official said.
The new rules include a ban on conferences and ordering bars to close at 6 p.m. if patrons are not served at table. Betting shops and games halls will have to close at 9 p.m.
Maintaining an obligation to wear protective masks both indoors and outdoors, except for isolated areas, the government urges an increase in remote working. Speranza told regional leaders during talks Saturday that remote working should account for up to 75% of the total, according to a government official.
The new rules stop short of closing schools, with Education Minister Lucia Azzolina arguing that pupils are more at risk of infection wandering around shopping centers than attending school. In the Naples area, the regional governor has ordered all schools closed until the end of the month to slow escalating infections.
Lombardy, home to the original outbreak of the virus in Italy, is facing a “critical situation” with more patients in intensive care units. Milan and its nearby municipalities are the heaviest-hit, and its hospital could face pressure from rising infections, said Walter Bergamaschi, health czar of the Northern city.
A cabinet meeting hosted by Conte approved a 2021 budget in the early hours of Sunday which seeks to shore up the economy, focusing on the health sector, supporting families extending a moratorium on loan and mortgage payments. The budget, which has to be approved by parliament by year-end, sets aside 4 billion euros ($4.7 billion) to support sectors hardest-hit by the pandemic.
The government said in its budget outlook that in a worst-case scenario gross domestic product could fall 10.5% this year and expand only 1.8% in 2021. The administration’s current forecast is for a 9% contraction this year and 6% growth in 2021. Rome is set to receive the largest share of a European Union package in grants and loans, as much as 209 billion euros.
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