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Covid-19: Italian health experts call for further restrictions as protests continue

Business owners and right-wing politicians in Italy continued to protest on Wednesday against the latest restrictions imposed to combat a spike in coronavirus cases, after days of occasionally violent demonstrations in Italian cities.

Covid-19: Italian health experts call for further restrictions as protests continue
Chefs and restaurateurs in Rome protesting business closures on Wednesday October 28th. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP
Scores of chefs and restaurateurs joined a rally in central Rome at lunchtime, kicking off coordinated protests in 24 cities organised by a business federation against rules forcing restaurants, bars, and other businesses to close their doors at 6:00 pm, while gyms and cinemas must close completely.
 
Meanwhile, far-right and nationalist politicians intensified their attacks on Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, accusing him of sacrificing the economy for measures that they say will not save Italy from the virus.
 
 
As the goverment on Tuesday announced a five-billion-euro package of tax cuts and financial support for the most affected businesses, Conte insisted the government's decision to close some businesses was not “indiscriminate”.
 
“Our choices can be legitimately criticised, we are in a democracy,” he said, but insisted the measures were necessary.
 
“To prevent the curve from getting out of control, it is essential to reduce the main opportunities for socialising,” he said
 
However, health experts insisted even stricter measures were needed if the spread is to be contained, amid growing warnings that the health system is starting to struggle.
 
“The hospitals in Milan are collapsing, there is no more room for patients,” said Maurizio Viecca, head of cardiology at Sacco di Milano hospital, amid a row sparked by a government health adviser calling for Milan's Lombardy region to be locked down.
 
“Go on like this, you risk dying in an ambulance or at home, as happened in the spring.”
 

 
Italy registered 21,994 new cases on Tuesday – the highest 24-hour count since the start of the pandemic.
 
Protests in several cities have turned violent in recent days as football hooligans, far-right activists and others have brought trouble to otherwise peaceful demonstrations.
 
Wednesday's Rome protest, held in front of the Pantheon close to the Senate, drew politicians of all stripes keen to get on side with the burgeoning movement – even as its leaders insisted it was politically neutral.
 
 
And regional politicians began to amend the national regulations brought in just two days ago, with Sicily announcing it intended to extend opening hours
for bars and restaurants.
 
“What is the point of preventing us from leading an almost normal life until the possible arrival of lockdown,” asked Sicily President Nello
Musumeci, saying local officials had the power to push back closing time until 10:00 pm if they chose.
 
 

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

On eve of election, Italy braces for potential far-right win

Italians on Saturday braced for seismic change, on the eve of an election forecast to hand Italy the most right-wing government since World War II.

On eve of election, Italy braces for potential far-right win

Out with internationally respected Mario Draghi and in — polls say — with Eurosceptic Giorgia Meloni, head of the post-fascist Brothers of Italy party, who is widely tipped to become the country’s first woman to head a government.

“The country is eager for a change, a new face,” Wolfango Piccoli of the London-based political risk consultancy Teneo told AFP.

Italy is battling a series of crises, from rampant inflation and extreme weather events linked to climate change, to an energy crisis aggravated by the war in Ukraine.

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding the Brothers of Italy

The campaign, sparked by Draghi’s downfall in July, wrapped up on Friday, giving Italians a day of reprieve as electioneering is banned until the vote.

People who spoke to AFP in Rome on Saturday said they were unsure the day before the election as the latest polls show that the Brothers of Italy party is likely to win and form a government.

“I am worried by the fact that the polls have the right-wing as the winner, especially Giorgia Meloni,” said Maria Tasca, a 27-year-old student originally from Sicily.

‘No magic solution’

“From what she has said on women’s rights, on young people’s rights, on rights in general, I see things going backwards by at least 50 years,” Tasca added.

“The problems are worldwide, there’s no magic solution. But sometimes you have to change,” said a 75-year-old shop owner, who gave his name only as Dante.

Meloni, 45, has worked hard over the past few weeks to reassure skittish investors and an anxious Brussels that her party’s historic ties to supporters of dictator Benito Mussolini are a thing of the past.

She has softened her tone and posted a video of herself on TikTok making traditional pastries from the Puglia region.

But she channelled warrior Aragorn from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings on Thursday at the closing rally for the right-wing coalition, which unites her Brothers of Italy with Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League party and billionaire Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding Italy’s League

The self-described “Christian mother” segued smoothly from the fantasy king to blaming the left for the country’s “drug dealers, thieves, rapists and mafia”, adding: “This Italy ends on Sunday”.

Berlusconi, 85, was at her side.

The media mogul — who is on trial accused of bribing starlets not to testify about his allegedly erotic parties — has campaigned mainly online, wooing grandmothers and housewives with promises of stay-at-home salaries.

TikTok jokes

He has also chased the youth vote with some TikTok jokes — including one about not trying to steal their girlfriends.

The race has seen the parties try to win over voters with ideas such as sending goods from northern to southern Italy via tube and fighting climate change with cannabis.

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding Italy’s Five Star Movement

Former interior minister Salvini, 49, campaigned under the slogan “Credo” (I believe), earning him a rebuke from the Catholic Church.

Fearful of losing a significant chunk of his supporters to Meloni, Salvini has tried to stand out by calling for an end to sanctions against Russia and railing against Brussels.

But the end of his campaign was overshadowed by a video clip of him describing a blind League candidate on Thursday as “an eye for Italians”.

The centre-left’s Enrico Letta, head of the Democratic Party (PD), rocked up to his final rally in an electric van — reminding voters of his earlier efforts to promote ecologically friendly transport, when his electric campaign
bus ran out of battery.

His main rival for votes on the left, Giuseppe Conte, head of the populist Five Star Movement, seemed to have more staying power.

He was photographed so often standing head and shoulders above the crowd amid a throng of supporters that the media dubbed him the “travelling Madonna”.

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