Italy lockdown persists as virus death toll climbs
Italy had its worst one-day death toll from the coronavirus outbreak, reporting that 627 people died in the last 24 hours. The government weighed tougher containment measures as the contagion accelerated across Europe.
The jump on Friday brings Italy’s fatalities to 4,032. It surpassed China on Thursday as the country with the most deaths. Italy’s total number of infections rose by 15 per cent to 47,021.
With the contagion showing little signs of abating, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government is set to reinforce the near-total lockdown in the country. The plan is to extend the current ban on non-essential activities until at least early May, according to officials who asked not to be named discussing confidential deliberations. The decision depends on factors including the spread of infections and the fact that many Italians aren’t respecting the rules, the officials said.
The government may also call in the army to help enforce the restrictions and schools may not reopen before the summer break, the officials added. The further tightening may also include a ban on outdoor sports and on Italians’ “passeggiate,” or strolls, with citizens allowed to leave their homes only for work or health reasons, or for emergencies.
In Spain, the virus claimed 235 lives over the past 24 hours, increasing the death toll by nearly a third. The Spanish government indicated that its lockdown, scheduled to last for two weeks, may be extended as the number of infected rose to just under 20,000.
Despite their confinement, Italians were together in song at 11 a.m. Friday, when all radio networks united to broadcast the national anthem followed by the songs Azzurro, La Canzone del Sole and Nel blu dipinto di blu.
Officials in northern Italy have been calling on Conte to get tougher in extending and enforcing the lockdown, even at the risk of further straining the economy in an area that accounts for the lion’s share of Italy’s gross domestic product. The Lombardy region around Milan could move to further limit the types of businesses allowed to operate, newspaper La Stampa reported.
Conte is expected to announce new measures before the current restrictions expire on March 25. Soldiers have already been deployed in the southern regions of Sicily and Calabria. Italian newspapers reported on possible new restrictions earlier Friday.
Police performed checks on more than 1 million people between March 11 and March 17, Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said Thursday, citing almost 50,000 for failing to respect the rules. Italy’s lockdown includes travel restrictions and a virtual ban on all shops except for groceries, pharmacies and gas stations.
The current school session, which was set to resume April 3, would still be considered complete, Italian media reported, with students graduating and moving on to the next year as normal.
Conte has also called for action from the European Stability Mechanism, the euro-area firewall established after the sovereign debt crisis. “The route to follow is to open ESM credit lines to all member states to help them fight the consequences of the COVID epidemic, under the condition of full accountability by each member state on the way resources are spent,” Conte told the Financial Times.
Ministers and policy makers across the continent have again ramped up efforts to counter the outbreak and mitigate the devastating effects on societies and economies with millions of people forced to stay home.
The U.K. and Greece were among those announcing new financial initiatives, while France urged workers to maintain food supplies. Leaders made it more apparent they don’t expect the fight against COVID-19 to end soon even as new cases have slowed to a trickle in China, the original epicenter.
French President Emmanuel Macron said it was unclear how many virus waves the world could be facing, and that efforts to arrest the outbreak will likely be implemented again in the future.
In the meantime, he urged people to strike a balance between staying home and keeping the country running as the coronavirus rips into one of Europe’s biggest economies.