ROME: Italy, one of the countries worst hit by Covid-19, will be placed under new restrictions over the Christmas and New Year periods, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced late Friday (Dec 18).
Under the new measures, shops, bars and restaurants will be closed and travel between regions will be banned, and in theory only one daily outside trip per household will be permitted.
Religious celebrations will be allowed until 10pm.
The move comes as Lombardy, Veneto and Lazio registered a rate of transmission of over 1, meaning the virus is again spreading in three key regions after weeks of decrease in the contagion curve. The national rate is 0.86, meaning on average the curve is flattening.
"Our experts fear that the infection curve will increase during the Christmas period," Conte said.
The prime minister conceded that the authorities had neither the means nor the will to monitor compliance with containment measures, but he asked Italians to respect a new limit of people hosting two adult guests at home.
“The virus continues to circulate everywhere. We can bend it, but we cannot defeat it,’’ Conte said. “This is why even among our experts there is a strong concern that the contagion curve could surge during the Christmas period.”
Food shops, hairdressing salons, pharmacies, tobacconists and laundries as well as bookstores will, however, remain open.
Conte specified that the confinement would be relaxed on Dec 28, 29, 30 as well as on Jan 4.
On these days, shops can remain open until 9pm and people will be allowed to move about freely.
The new restrictions will mean no Christmas lunches in restaurants, as had been foreseen in a previous decree, although take-out and deliveries are allowed.
To soften the blow to a sector already devastated, the decree includes €645 million in aid.
In anticipation of the ban on movement between regions, which already had been announced, many people moved up holiday travel to this weekend.
Italy has 60 million inhabitants and one of the oldest populations in Europe.
Italy reported 674 coronavirus-related deaths on Friday against 683 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections decreased to 17,992 from 18,236.
The first Western country hit by the virus, Italy has seen 67,894 COVID-19 fatalities since its outbreak emerged in February, the highest toll in Europe and the fifth highest in the world.
It has also registered 1.92 million cases to date.