Italians face strict holiday lockdowns amid Covid-19 surge

Rome, Dec 18 (efe-epa).- Italy’s prime minister announced Friday a series of strict lockdowns over the Christmas and New Year holidays to address growing numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths.

“The situation continues to be difficult, throughout Europe as well, and the virus continues circulating,” Giuseppe Conte told a press conference in Rome as health authorities reported nearly 18,000 new infections in the last 24 hours.

“We must intervene and I assure you it is not an easy decision. So we have adopted a new, balanced decree,” he said on behalf of the governing coalition led by the populist Five-Star Movement and the center-left Democrats.

For all but four days during the period from Dec. 24 through Jan. 6, Italians will be subject to the same restrictions that applied during the extended national lockdown last spring.

Non-essential businesses will have to shut down and people will be expected to leave their homes only for work, to buy necessities or to seek medical care.

Outdoor exercise will be permitted, with requirements for masks and social distancing.

Shops are authorized to open Dec. 28-30 and Jan. 4, when the stay-home order will likewise be suspended. But restaurants are limited to take-out and delivery for the entire period.

Travel between regions will be barred throughout the interval covered by the decree.

In a concession to the impulse to gather with family for the holidays, each household will be permitted two visitors and children under 14 will not count toward that limit.

“It is a measure conceived to allow a minimum of sociability characteristic of this period,” Conte said of the provision for visits.

Covid-19 claimed 674 lives in Italy in the last 24 hours, the Health Ministry said, bringing the death toll since the start of the pandemic to 67,894.

Nearly 2 million Italians have been infected with the virus.

Along with the restrictions, the prime minister presented 645 million euros ($790 million) in additional economic aid to bars hurt by the lockdowns.

Italy has already experienced protests over the government’s response to the pandemic. Some by people who oppose the various restrictions on principle, others by those who see the steps taken to address the economic impact as inadequate.

“The end of this nightmare” is near, Conte said Friday, pointing to the expected start of coronavirus vaccinations in Europe on Dec. 27. EFE gsm-vh/dr

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