Italy set to introduce its harshest pandemic restrictions since May

The Italian government is expected to introduce the harshest public health restrictions since the end of its first national lockdown in May as new coronavirus cases hit a fresh daily record on Saturday.

A draft government decree leaked to multiple Italian media outlets on Saturday suggested that Giuseppe Conte, prime minister, is preparing as early as Sunday afternoon to announce that all bars and restaurants across the country will have to close by 6pm.

Under the proposed measures, which are expected to come into force from Monday and last until the last week of November, schools and workplaces will remain open.

The draft, which may change before Mr Conte is expected to address the nation in a television address on Sunday evening, also stipulated that gyms, swimming pools, theatres and cinemas would close, and Italians were likely to be “strongly recommended” not to leave their immediate areas apart from for studying, work or health reasons. 

As Mr Conte held a government meeting on Saturday evening, a small group of hard-right protesters threw firecrackers at police in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo in the latest sign of public unrest triggered by the prospect of new restrictions on business opening hours and freedom of movement.

Mr Conte has so far insisted that there would be no new national lockdown in Italy, as newly diagnosed Covid-19 cases have surged over the last two weeks and he has come under mounting pressure from regional governors and scientists to impose stricter measures.

The leaked decree suggests that all bars and restaurants across the country will have to close by 6pm © Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg

On Saturday the Italian authorities said that diagnosed new cases had risen by 19,664 over the previous 24 hours, a new daily record, while 151 people died, up from 91 on Friday. The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care rose by 79 to a total of 1,128.

On Friday evening violent protests broke out in Naples after the governor of Campania, the region that contains the southern city, said that a surge in cases there meant that his regional government would have to impose new lockdown measures. 

“We have to close everything, except for businesses that produce and transport essential goods,” Vincenzo De Luca said on Friday, in comments that provoked the protests after daily diagnosed cases in Campania surged to 2280, up from 1541 the day before. “We are on the verge of tragedy,” he said, urging the whole of Italy to go into a new lockdown.

Video footage of the disturbances in Naples showed people throwing bottles at police, who responded with tear gas to disperse the crowds in violence that Italy’s deputy interior minister said was “organised by fringe football hooligans, criminal groups and political extremists”. 

On Saturday evening Mr De Luca appeared to roll back from his previous comments, saying there would be no full lockdown in Campania, but urged the national government to impose a “red zone” around Naples, stopping movement in and out of the city.

Cases in Italy’s south have risen sharply in the past week, raising concern among officials that the region’s weaker public healthcare system could struggle to cope if the infection rate continued to increase. 

During Italy’s first wave, the country’s poorer south was largely spared any significant outbreaks, which were concentrated in the wealthy northern region of Lombardy, but Campania has since the end of the summer become one of the worst-hit areas. 

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