Italy closes gyms and theaters, shuts restaurants early to fight coronavirus spike
New restrictions to fight rising coronavirus infections came into effect Monday in Italy, including the closure of gyms, pools and movie theaters and early curfews on indoor dining in cafes and restaurants.
Italians must also continue wearing masks outdoors under the new rules announced Sunday by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and set to last until Nov. 24.
Worried about crippling Italy’s stagnant economy, especially after 10 weeks of a severe lockdown earlier in the pandemic, Conte opted against another heavy nationwide lockdown. “Our aim is to protect health and the economy,” he said.
Italy has now surpassed a half-million confirmed coronavirus cases since February, when it became the first country in Europe stricken by the pandemic. On Sunday, the country registered 21,273 new confirmed cases and 128 new deaths.
Italy has reported a total of 37,338 COVID-19 deaths, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain.
Restaurant and bar owners had lobbied hard against the new measures, which allow no more than four diners per table unless they are from the same family and order a halt to indoor dining at 6 p.m. Most restaurants in Italy usually don’t even start to serve dinner before 8 p.m. They can continue to do delivery and takeout orders until midnight.
Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi has been released from the hospital after what he says was an ‘insidious’ bout with COVID-19.
Cafes and restaurants were allowed in recent months to reopen for outdoor dining or limited indoor seating. But many are struggling to pay their bills, and some have already failed after tourists from the United States and many other countries were banned.
Conte promised financial aid as soon as November to the food sector.
The new restrictions also put ski slopes off-limits to all but competitive skiers, and spectators are banned from stadiums for professional sports matches, including soccer. Receptions after religious or civil ceremonies such as weddings are forbidden.
Mask-wearing outdoors will continue to be mandatory, except for children younger than 6 and those who are exercising.
“We all have to make small sacrifices,” Conte said. “If we can’t go to the gym, we can exercise outdoors.”
Mainlanders infected with the coronavirus have come ashore on Italy’s tiny Giglio Island, but no islanders have taken ill, mystifying a scientist.
Conte kept elementary and middle schools open but said 75% of high school students must have remote classes. Crowding on public transit, especially since schools reopened last month, has concerned health authorities.
“These are difficult days,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza said. “The curve of contagion is growing in the world. And in all Europe the wave is very high. We must react immediately and with determination if we want to avoid unsustainable numbers.”
Several Italian regions and cities recently imposed overnight curfews to cut down on young people congregating outdoors, especially to drink. But with the approaching cold weather, Conte said, people will prefer to socialize inside bars and restaurants instead, leading to his decision to order them to close early.
On Friday, demonstrators in Naples protested against an 11 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew and clashed with police. On Saturday night, far-right and neo-fascist political groups led a similar protest in Rome against the capital’s curfew.
Conte said he understood the frustration of Italians whose incomes and way of life are being heavily hit by pandemic limitations.
“I’d feel anger, too, toward the government,” he said, but noted that authorities had determined that the protests were also fueled by agitators.
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