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Italy leaning toward extending lockdown to early May

  • Alberto Brambilla, Alessandro Speciale and John Follain

    Bloomberg

Rome, Italy   /   Fri, April 10, 2020   /   03:20 pm
Italy leaning toward extending lockdown to early May A general view of an almost empty street, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Rome, Italy April 7, 2020. (REUTERS/Remo Casilli)

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is leaning toward extending the country’s lockdown to early May, with only minimal concessions to business demands to allow more companies to resume normal operations.

Italy, the original epicenter of the virus in Europe, must weigh the increasing economic pain of restrictions that are slowly starting to contain the contagion against the risk of relaxing curbs too early and allowing a second wave of infections. While other countries, such as Austria and Denmark, have mapped out plans to ease some of their restrictions, Italy, together with Germany, is the first major European economy to do so.

Current containment measures, which include a ban on all non-essential economic activity and the closure of most shops, are currently scheduled to run until April 13. Conte is inclined to keep those restrictions fundamentally unchanged, according to three trade union and business representatives that met with him on Thursday.

The premier is expected to announce the new extension of the lockdown as early as Friday, according to two officials. Any slight easing will be gradual and on a regional basis, according to the officials, who declined to be named in line with policy.

Italy recorded a second straight increase in the number of new infections on Thursday, with 4,204 case compared with 3,836 Wednesday. The pickup came amid a surge in testing to discover previously undetected cases, with almost 100,000 tests in the last 2 days.

The government’s emergency committee of medical and scientific advisers is working to prepare for relaxing the lockdown, Giovanni Rezza, head of the infectious diseases department at Rome’s national health institute ISS, said in an interview.“We’re focusing on issues including sector-by-sector professions and the risks of contagion involved,” said Rezza, a member of the committee. The advisers are drawing up different categories according to protection measures and to what extent professions involve close social contact.Businesses that could be allowed to open beginning April 14 include bookshops and stationary stores, agricultural machinery makers, forestry companies and perhaps sellers of baby clothes, according to newspaper Corriere della Sera.

“Faced with an epidemic of this proportion, I’d tend to trust the viral experts,” Deputy Finance Minister Antonio Misiani said on Thursday. “The sooner we get the health situation under control, the sooner we can get the economic engine started again.”