Italy to spend 40 billion more to help virus-hit economy

Italy's government has agreed to borrow another 40 billion euros this year to help mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the prime minister's office said.

Italy to spend 40 billion more to help virus-hit economy
Italy's bars and restaurants are among the businesses hit hardest byrepeated closures over the past year. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The money “will be used for new measures to support businesses and the economy,” a source at Palazzo Chigi told media after a cabinet meeting on Thursday.

The move comes just three months after the last expansion of the budget deficit, by 32 billion euros, as Italy seeks to recover from its worst recession since the end of World War II.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi has been under pressure to offer more relief to businesses struggling with coronavirus restrictions, after protests from a wide range of groups, from entertainment workers to restaurant owners.

READ ALSO: Protesters clash with Italian police over business closures

A draft version of the new ‘documento di economia e finanza‘ (Def) said the new funding would prioritise self-employed workers and small businesses, Italian media reports, and that the final version of the document would be published “by the end of April”.

On Thursday, the government also adopted new economic targets, according to the source from Draghi’s office.

It expects gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 4.5 percent in 2021 and of 4.8 percent in 2022, after a record fall of 8.9 percent in last year — the biggest in postwar history.

Italy has already spent more than 130 billion euros in propping up sectors shut by Covid-19 closures since the pandemic swept across the country in early 2020, causing more than 115,500 deaths.

READ ALSO: When is Italy likely to relax its coronavirus restrictions?

The latest budget correction adds to the country’s debt mountain, but in the current economic environment of ultra-low interest rates, government borrowing has become noticeably cheaper.

In addition, Italy hopes to fuel its economic recovery with EU grants and loans coming from its share of the bloc’s recovery fund.

Italy is set to receive around 190 billion euros, arriving between 2021 and 2026.

The government is currently drafting a final plan setting out how the money will be spent. It is due to be submitted for EU authorities’ approval by the end of the month.

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”