Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, tightened restrictions on Sunday to curb the steep rise of coronavirus infections spreading across the country, ordering early closures of bars and restaurants and the total closure of gyms, swimming pools, theaters, cinemas and concert halls.
Italy was the first Western country to go on a general lockdown last March. The government introduced the new restrictions starting on Monday with the hope of avoiding a second lockdown that would severely damage the country’s economy.“We need to do anything we can to protect health and the economy alike,” Mr. Conte said in a lunchtime televised news conference from Rome’s government building. “The pandemic is unfortunately running quite uniformly and critically across the country.”
Mr. Conte explained that Italians will have to make “small sacrifices” like practicing sports outside, eating dinner at home and giving up on theaters or concerts.
“If we don’t think like this, we won’t be able to keep the curve of contagion under control and manage the pandemic,” he said. “These measure are necessary, and I hope sufficient.”
For the next month, bars, pubs, ice cream shops, pastry shops and restaurants will stay open on weekends, but will have to shut down at 6 p.m. The government also “strongly recommended” that employers increase remote work, and that citizens avoid leaving their home districts as much as possible.
As in the first wave of the pandemic last spring, the northern region of Lombardy is the hardest hit, and health authorities denounced failures in contact tracing as Milan surpassed 1,000 daily infections on Saturday. Seven other regions are also showing worrisome trends, as well as large cities like Rome and Naples, and emergency room doctors have expressed concern for the number of patients requiring care.
To reduce social interactions where people tend to lower their guard, some regions imposed overnight curfews over the past week, prompting backlash. On Friday and Saturday, protests turned violent in Naples with hooded men launching garbage bins, firecrackers and rocks against police vans. A few hundred people also protested in central Rome on Saturday night.
“I understand that Italians are more frustrated than in the first wave,” Mr. Conte said. “But despite of our anger and frustration, we will be able to overcome this together.”