Italy, the epicenter of Europe's first coronavirus outbreak, moves to stop second surge

  • Italy announced a raft of new measures aimed at curbing a second wave of coronavirus cases.
  • From Monday, local mayors will have the power to close public areas, such as squares and streets, after 9 p.m. in order to limit public gatherings.
  • Distance learning is to be encouraged for older students, and staggered school entry times for others.

Italy announced a raft of new restrictive measures aimed at curbing a second wave of coronavirus cases.

From Monday, local mayors will have the power to close public areas, such as squares and streets, after 9 p.m. in order to limit public gatherings which have been seen as one of the main reasons for a new spike in coronavirus infections.

Announcing the new restrictions on Sunday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that bars and restaurants are allowed to stay open until midnight (but can be closed earlier if local leaders deem that necessary) if there is table service, but must close at 6 p.m. if not.  Social gatherings in bars and restaurants are restricted to six people per table.

"We mustn't waste time," Conte said as he announced the new measures in a televised address. "The country can't allow another lockdown that would severely compromise the entire economy."

Other measures introduced include encouraging distance learning for older students and staggered entry times to schools for other pupils. Contact sports at an amateur level remain banned, and gyms and leisure facilities have to adapt to the new measures. Local festivals are banned too.

On Sunday, 11,705 new infections were reported, up from 10,925 on Saturday and 10,010 the day before that, government data shows. Italy has recorded 414,241 cases in total, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Conte said Sunday the strategy being followed now to curb the spread of infections "isn't, and can't be, the same as the one implemented in spring.|

Then, at the start of the pandemic, Conte said, Italy hadn't been prepared with enough intensive care equipment and masks, or able to do enough tests. Since then it had procured equipment, produced and distributed millions of masks among students and carried out up to 160,000 tests per day.

Italy was the epicenter of Europe's initial coronavirus outbreak in February, with the first clusters of cases seen in Lombardy, before spreading to other regions in northern Italy and further afield into the rest of Europe.

Italy was the first part of Europe to introduce a local, then regional and finally a national lockdown in early March to stop the spread of the virus, meaning that all but food retailers and pharmacies closed and people could only leave their homes for essential reasons.

Italy's economy has been hit hard by the lockdown earlier this year. The International Monetary Fund's latest economic forecasts predict that Italy's economy will contract 10.6%  in 2020.  Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco said in an interview with Bloomberg Friday that it will take at least two years for the country's economy to get back to pre-Covid levels.

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