ROME: Italy on Monday (Apr 6) unveiled a record 400 billion euro (US$430 billion) stimulus to help businesses hurt by a month-long national lockdown that is like to run on for many more weeks.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told the nation to be patient in the face of a pandemic that has now officially claimed 16,523 lives in the Mediterranean country and left millions at least temporarily unemployed
"We will soon see a new spring for Italy but for the moment we must stay at home," the Italian leader said in a television address.
The programme will add to the 340 billion euros in government-backed loans announced last month.
Conte said it represented "the most powerful intervention in the country's history".
Half of the new package will be earmarked for export-oriented companies whose turnover has imploded over the past month.
Italy's health "emergency is also an economic and social one," Conte said.
The government also announced that it will take steps to protect Italian companies weakened by the economic crisis from being taken over by foreign competitors.
"This moment of difficult will not translate into an opportunity to prey on Italian companies," cabinet undersecretary Riccardo Fraccaro said.
TOLL SHOOTS BACK UP
Italy has seen its novel coronavirus infection rates subside over the past few weeks and its death toll slowly level off.
But the number of fatalities shot back up on Monday from its lowest level in more than two weeks.
The civil protection service said the daily number of official COVID-19 deaths rose to 636 on Monday from 525 the day before.
Sunday's toll was the lowest since Mar 19. It also represented a drop of 23 per cent from the 681 deaths reported on Saturday.
Italy's leading health officials had called Sunday's drop an important data point that could potentially lead to an easing of the country's strict month-long lockdown.
But civil protection service chief Angelo Borrelli said on Monday that the data were still being carefully assessed and that any definitive ruling was premature.
"The technical-scientific committee is currently carrying out its evaluations. Then, it will be up to the political decision makers," Borrelli told reporters.
He said the scientists will draw their conclusions about how to proceed "in due time".
Italy's current lockdown has been officially extended to Apr 13.
Conte has repeatedly stressed that businesses will only be allowed to open up gradually and that many of the current social distancing measures will stay in place for some time.
But he has refrained from saying when this might happen. Some officials have suggested that most of the current measures will be extended until at least the start of May.
Yet some of the data released on Monday looked encouraging.
The daily rise in new infections dropped to a record low of just 2.8 per cent.
The number of people receiving intensive care treatment for COVID-19 fell for a third successive day.