Medical workers dressed as clowns and Santa Claus entertain people in Rome on Saturday. AFP
Gulf Today Report
Italy on Friday announced harsh new restrictions over the holidays with many shops and all bars and restaurants closed, travel between regions banned, and only one daily outside trip per household permitted.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Friday that Italy will be placed under a nationwide lockdown for much of the Christmas and New Year holiday, as the government looks to prevent a fresh surge in coronavirus cases.
Italy was the first Western country to be badly hit by the virus in February.
The new decree puts strict limits on movements on holidays and weekends from Dec. 21 till the Jan. 6 Epiphany holiday, with a slight easing on four weekdays. To allow a glimmer of Christmas cheer, personal visits to friends or family members of no more than two people are allowed on any given day.
Conte called the limits "a painful decision.”
The announcement ended days of indecision and wrangling within the coalition, which was split between those wanting a complete shutdown and those pressing for more limited action to help struggling businesses and to allow some family reunions.
“The situation is difficult across Europe. The virus continues to circulate everywhere,” Conte told reporters.
“Our experts were seriously worried that there would be a jump in cases over Christmas. ... We therefore had to act, but I can assure you it was not an easy decision.”
Under the new rules, non-essential shops will be shuttered between Dec.24-27, Dec.31- Jan.3 and Jan.5-6. On those days, Italians will only be allowed to travel for work, health or emergency reasons.
However, limited visits will be allowed, for example to see elderly parents living alone. Conte said the police would not be sent into peoples' homes to check that the rules were being respected, but he called on Italians to show responsibility.
Shops will be able to open between Dec.28-30 and on Jan.4 and people will be free to leave their houses at that time. However, throughout the holiday period, all bars and restaurants must remain closed.
Conte promised compensation totalling some 645 million euros ($790 million) to help the hospitality sector which has been savaged by the 10-month health crisis.
Italy was the first Western country to be badly hit by the virus in February and as of Friday, 67,894 people had died as a result of the disease here, the highest toll in Europe.
Following a summer lull, infections soared in October, forcing new government curbs. These have since largely been loosened, but with hundreds of people still dying each day, the government has grown increasingly concerned that the looming Christmas break might spark an uncontrolled spread of the virus.
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