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-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].”