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.