Coronavirus LATEST: Italy shuts all stores except food shops and pharmacies

Italy has tightened up its quarantine rules, shutting all stores except for pharmacies and food shops in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus that has killed 827 in the the country in just over two weeks.

Coronavirus LATEST: Italy shuts all stores except food shops and pharmacies
Closed shops in Rome. AFP
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the latest wave of restrictions in a press conference on Wednesday night, in a dramatic appeal to the nation as it battles its biggest crisis in generations.
“We will close shops, bars, pubs and restaurants. Home delivery is allowed,” Conte said in a nine-minute national television address.

Big businesses such as factories can remain open as long as they adopt “appropriate security measures to prevent contagion,” Conte said.

Conte asked people to stay indoors unless they need to buy food or other necessities.

People are also allowed to leave the house and travel to work, if their employer has not put them on leave or allowed remote working.

Conte did not announce any new restriction on transport in the address. He said essential public services, including public transport and utilities, are “guaranteed”.

The Italian leader stressed in his nine-minute evening prime time address that there was “no need to rush to buy groceries” because food stores would stay open throughout.

Italians have watched ever-tighter restrictions slowly eat away at the very fabric of everyday life since the weekend.

An existing clampdown on public gathering and basic travel had already emptied streets and shuttered everything from churches to gyms and cinemas.

Cathedrals on Tuesday posted hand-written notes cancelling mass and cafes apologised to their regulars for having to turn them away.

Conte said the closure of nearly everything that had remained open under the previous restrictions would run for at least two weeks.

“Thank you to all Italians who make sacrifices. We are proving to be a great nation,” Conte said in his nine-minute evening prime time address to the nation.

READ ALSO: 'Hospitals are overwhelmed': Italian doctors describe the struggle of fighting the coronavirus outbreak

He told Italians: “Just a few days ago I asked you to change your habits and stay at home, and you have responded in an extraordinary way.”

You are making enormous sacrifices, I know that’s not easy, but these are making a great and precious contribution to the country. The whole world is watching us, especially watching the number of cases.”

The announcement came on the day Italy recorded nearly 200 more deaths linked to coronavirus.

Overall in Italy, 827 people have now died from the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus and more than 12,000 have been infected in just under three weeks since the outbreak began in northern Italy.

Photo: AFP

This figure includes the deceased and a total of 1,045 people who have now recovered – 40 more then on Tuesday.

This means the total number of active cases in Italy is now at 10,590.

There are now over a thousand patients in intensive care nationwide – 560 of these are in the Lombardy region alone, where hospitals are struggling to cope.

The northern region of Lombardy is by far the worst-hit part of Italy. It has also seen most of the deaths with 617 in total as of Wednesday.

The region of Emilia-Romagna has had 113 fatalities and Veneto in the north east 29.

The vast majority of the deaths have been in northern Italy, though the southern region of Puglia has now recorded five deaths, and Campania on Wednesday recorded its first fatality.

Find all The Local's coverage of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy here

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Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”