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Italy extends lockdown until May 3rd despite pressure from business

Italian PM Giuseppe Conte announced on Friday that the lockdown in Italy would be extended until May 3rd, as the country struggles to fully contain the spread of Covid-19.

Italy extends lockdown until May 3rd despite pressure from business
Photo: AFP

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Friday refused to bow to business pressure and extended the Mediterranean country's economically-crippling lockdown until May 3.

Conte made the announcement after Italy's official COVID-19 toll climbed by another 570 fatalities to 18,849 — more than any other country — but with the growth rate now just a fraction of what it was a few weeks ago.

Media reports said business unions from regions responsible for 45 percent of Italy's production — and 80 percent of its coronavirus deaths — had written to Conte warning that companies will be unable to pay wages if the shutdown runs on.

But Conte said Italy could not afford another spike in infections and needed to exercise extra caution in the face of the new disease.

“We are all, I imagine, impatient to get going again,” Conte said in a televised address.

He said the extension of the lockdown for another three weeks was “a difficult but necessary decision for which I assume full political responsibility”.

Conte's decision followed days of consultations with scientists and union leaders with a range of conflicting concerns.

A miscalculation by Conte could either result in a new spike in infections or do unnecessary damage to the economy — and people's livelihoods — by keeping everything shut for longer than strictly required.

The United State and countries across Europe are watching with interest to see which way Italy chooses as it seeks to come out of its worst crisis since World War II.

Balancing act

Conte agreed to allow a tiny fraction of businesses that had been shuttered since March 12 to re-open on a trial basis when the current restrictions expire on Monday night.

The full list of businesses and factories is expected to be published on Saturday and is likely to be extremely small.

Conte specifically mentioned book stores and baby clothes shops on the grounds that they rarely draw crowds and can more easily impose social distancing measures.

Italians may also be cheered by media reports suggesting that laundromats and dry cleaners will be allowed to reopen for the first time in more than a month.

Only grocery stores and pharmacies have been able to operate since a general lockdown began at the peak of the Mediterranean country's outbreak on March 12.

A study released by the Confcooperative small business lobby said the closures have left more half of Italy's 1.3 million construction workers and over a third of the 11.4 million services sector employees furloughed.

Another report by the Confindustria big business lobby estimated that every week of Italy's shutdown was chopping another 0.75 percent off its annual gross domestic product.

The figure was similar to the only calculated for France by that country's central bank.

Freedom to roam

Italian government scientists are also pushing for the ban on public gatherings to be extended as long as possible as a safety precaution.

Health officials have spent weeks warning that the Italian outbreak had peaked only because of the various closures and bans.

But Conte was now reportedly considering whether to allow Italians to leave their houses without a specific reason for the first time time in nearly two months on May 4.

The Corriere della Sera newspaper said Italy's individual regions might be given the freedom to decide whether to end their confinement measures once the latest restrictions expire.

A final decision is not expected before the end of the month.

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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].”