Italian PM calls for national unity amid growing criticism of virus rules

Italian PM calls for national unity amid growing criticism of virus rules
Protests in Rome on Tuesday against the government's latest restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said "now is the time to remain united" in a speech to parliament on Thursday as politicians, business groups and health experts criticised the government's recent handling of the coronavirus crisis.
“Last week President (Sergio) Mattarella reminded us that all of the parts of the democratic order know that they must operate with a spirit of unity and cohesion,” Conte said.
 
“Allow me to say that this is truly the time to remain united.”
 
His words came amid political attacks from opposition parties, and as regional heads defied the latest nationwide measures announced at the weekend 
 
Opposition politicians rushed to show support for the widespread protests in Italy this week by business owners and employees concerned about the impact and effectiveness of the new rules, which closed gyms and cinemas and limited the opening hours of bars and restaurants.
 
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The government gradually tightened national measures as it issued a series of three emergency decrees within the space of two weeks, following a sharp increase in new cases of Covid-19.
 
Conte defended the closures on Thursday, saying the aim was to “mitigate and cool down” the contagion curve “in order to alleviate the heavy workload” on the national health system.
 
 
He said the rules were based on “the principles of maximum precaution, proportionality and adequacy.”
 
“The figures of the last two weeks indicate rapid growth,” he said, describing the almost 25,000 new positive cases reported on Wednesday as “worrying.”
 
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Photo: AFP
 
“It is difficult to trace contacts. This situation has put the national health service under severe pressure,” he said.
 
Leading health experts in the country have also criticised the government, saying current figures show stricter measures were needed.
 
 
The measures enforced under the current emergency decree are “insufficient and late”, said the president of the Gimbe Foundation, Nino Cartabellotta, commenting on national health data from October 21-27.
 
“The epidemic is out of control, without immediate local closures it will take a month of national lockdown”, Cartabellotta stated in a report published on Thursday.
 

 
His words echoed those of the more than 100 Italian academics who wrote to the government last week calling for urgent restrictions to avoid thousands more cases and hundred of deaths in Italy from Covid-19.
 
Walter Ricciardi, advisor to health minister Roberto Speranza, has also called for local lockdowns in the cities of Milan and Naples.
 
“Being in close contact with a positive case is very easy (in those areas) because the virus is circulating a lot,” he told media. “In these areas lockdown is necessary, in other areas of the country, no.”
 
Lombardy regional leader Attilio Fontana said on Tuesday he was opposed to implementing a local lockdown, despite the area being by far the worst-affected part of Italy.
 
Milan and Naples, among several other cities and regions, currently have evening curfews in place. 
 
 
Empty restaurant tables in Rome on Tuesday evening. Photo: AFP
 
A curfew is not in force nationwide, though bars and restaurants must close by 6pm in all parts of Italy according to the latest emergency decree.
 
Regional politicians however began to make their own changes to the national regulations almost as soon as they came in, with Sicily announcing it may keep bars and restaurants open beyond the 6pm closing time ordered by the national government.
 
 
“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.
 
On Wednesday night, the region of Puglia announced it would be closing schools, against the advice of the national government, which insists schools are not a major source of contagion and should be kept open.
 
The autonomous region of Trentino-Alto-Adige implemented softer restrictions almost immediately, but revoked them on Thursday after Conte's government said it would contest the local order in court. 
 
Find all The Local's latest coronavirus updates here.

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