• Thursday, June 20, 2024
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BusinessDay

Italy to impose movement restrictions on 16m citizens to contain Coronavirus

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Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte tried to ward off alarm from spreading throughout Europe’s fourth-biggest economy after he personally unveiled drastic measures in the middle of the night to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

In a hastily convened news conference, the head of a government already hanging by a thread confirmed Italy planned to dramatically restrict movement and activity for a quarter of its population in the economic powerhouse that is the region around Milan.

As news of the measures leaked, it was clear Italians were having an immediate reaction. Video footage on social media showed people rushing to get on the last train out and escape a virtual lockdown that will see people housebound.

Schools have already been shut as tourism has ground to a halt and businesses take a hit in a country already on the brink of recession.

Conte’s latest effort at damage control comes as cases surged to 5,883 on Saturday with 233 deaths, and as Nicola Zingaretti, the leader of one of the two major government parties, announced he had contracted the illness.

Yet the premier’s late appearance, and his criticism of “unacceptable” leaks, did little to dispel concern that this was a government with a tenuous grasp of a rapidly evolving national emergency. Conte said he would take “political responsibility” for managing the crisis.

A key test of whether he succeeded will come Monday, when investors will assess the impact of his actions on Italy’s already weakened economy.

Spreads between Italian and German bonds have crept up since the coronavirus crisis erupted but have so far remained below the average of the past year. 

A spike in yields would put further strain on Italy’s debt just as the government prepares to widen the deficit to prop up the economy.

Conte’s announcement came after an early draft of the new norms did the rounds and sparked confusion. Images abounded of Italians crowding trains from Milan and the north to make their way south before restrictions came into force.

The regulations are set to come into force “within hours,” Conte said. They are to last until April 3, according to the draft seen by Bloomberg. A final text is still to be published.

The bans will stop anyone from entering or exiting the most-affected areas, while movement inside will be allowed only for demonstrable business or health reasons, the draft said.

Skiing, public events, religious ceremonies and work meetings will be suspended, while schools, museums, swimming pools and theaters will close.