Italy further tightens lockdown rules, closes all non-essential businesses as death toll climbs to 4,825

Rome: In an unexpected announcement made via Facebook, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that all commercial activities in the country would be shut down unless they performed an “essential” role for the country in its battle against the spread of coronavirus.

Conte’s announcement on Saturday night came as Italy reported 4,825 coronavirus deaths, the highest global tally even surpassing China where the virus originated last December. The number of confirmed cases as of Saturday stood at 53,578.

With his declaration, Conte further tightened what is the most dramatic peacetime lockdown in recent history, reports xinhua news agency.

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The Prime Minister deemed the crisis as “the country’s most difficult since the end of World War II”.

Conte said that supermarkets and pharmacies would remain open, and banking and vital transport services would still be available, but that all non-essential commercial activities would be prohibited. This amounts to a near-total shutdown of the Italian economy, with factories and offices that had been able to operate in some limited capacity no longer operating.

The new rules are expected to enter into force starting Monday.

Conte spoke for less than five minutes with more than 30,000 people logged onto the site despite the fact that he spoke at around 11.30 p.m. and with little advance notice.

Conte said he was speaking via social media because of a desire to “operate with complete transparency”.

Italy on Saturday reported 793 new coronavirus deaths, a one-day record that saw its toll shoot up to 4,825 — 38.3 per cent of the world’s total. The number of COVID-19 infections rose by 6,557 to 53,578, another record.

The total number of fatalities in the northern Lombardy regions around Milan surpassed 3,000. It accounts for nearly two-thirds of Italy’s fatalities.

Italy has reported 1,420 deaths since Friday, a grim figure that suggests the pandemic is breaking through the government’s various containment and social distancing measures.

The Mediterranean nation of 60 million has been under an effective lockdown since March 12, when public gatherings were banned and most stores shuttered.

Police were out in force across the streets of Rome on Saturday, checking documents and fining those outsides without a valid reason, such as buying groceries.

Joggers were asked to run around the block of their houses, parks and beaches were closed, and the government in Rome prepared to extend the school and other closures into the summer months.

But the outbreak keeps gathering pace in the new global epicentre of the virus. First reported in December in China, it has since transformed the world, straining healthcare systems, upending the lives for millions and pummelling global stock markets.

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The figures released Saturday showed deaths still largely contained to Italy’s richer north, whose world-class healthcare system is under strain but still not breaking.

It is much better than what is available in the poorer south, whose regions have registered a few dozen deaths each — and which the government in Rome is watching closely.

The Lazio region that includes Rome has recorded a total of 50 deaths and 1,190 infections.

The National Health Institute (ISS) said the average age of coronavirus victims was 78.5, and the average age of those infected 63.

The ISS said 98.8 per cent of those who died from COVID-19 had least one pre-existing condition or ailment, based on the study of Italy”s first 3,200 fatalities.

Italy’s figures are being watched closely by other governments as they try to formulate an urgent response to the rapidly unfolding crisis.

(With IANS & PTI inputs)