March 13, 2020 / 3:30 PM / 19 days ago

Italy's Lombardy seeks tightening of screw to defeat coronavirus

ROME, March 13 (Reuters) - The northern region of Lombardy, at the epicentre of Italy’s coronavirus epidemic, asked on Friday for a further, final push to combat the contagion, which has killed more than 1,000 people and pummelled the economy.

The government this week imposed drastic curbs on all of the country, shutting bars, restaurants and most shops, and banning non-essential travel in an effort to halt the worst outbreak of the disease outside China.

However, it said factories and public transport should remain operational to prevent a total shutdown. Lombardy, which has accounted for 73% of all the deaths, said even these activities needed to close to stamp out the illness.

“We are asking for an exception to be made for Lombardy, which is the hardest hit region, with additional closures of shops and businesses,” said Giulio Gallera, the local councillor responsible for welfare.

“If we can resist for at least eight days, perhaps we will see things turn around,” he told RAI 3 television.

Some companies, such as car maker Fiat Chrysler, have decided to shut down some operations, while premium brakes maker Brembo announced on Friday it would temporarily stop work at its four Italian plants.

THE SICK, THE ECONOMY

There was no immediate word on whether Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte would agree to further curbs in Italy’s business heartlands, with the government increasingly concerned about the long-term scars the virus will leave on the fragile economy.

“Today we have two objectives: Taking care of the sick and preventing infections, and taking care of our economy,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Friday.

Di Maio was speaking at an event to thank China for sending 31 tonnes of medical supplies, including masks and respirators, to Italy, as well as a team of doctors.

“Italy is not alone,” Di Maio said. “China is getting back on its feet and soon we too will be back on our feet.”

Italy has been dismayed by the response of some of its closest European allies to the crisis, with EU states refusing earlier this month requests for help as they stockpiled face masks and other medical equipment for their own citizens.

Austria and Slovenia have also drawn diplomatic displeasure by drastically limiting cross-border road traffic, leading to lengthy tailbacks and widespread confusion.

Four buses carrying Ukrainian nationals trying to get home from Italy were turned back at the Slovenian frontier overnight.

“We can’t continue our journey. We have children on board, we are tired and we can’t continue,” said an upset woman, who did not give her name. “If something happens, we want to die in our homes, in our country,” said a Ukrainian man next to her.

In Rome, Pope Francis rebelled against a decision by his Roman Catholic Church to close all the 750 churches in the Italian capital - an unprecedented move in modern history.

“Drastic measures are not always good,” the pope said on Friday in improvised remarks at the start of his morning Mass, streamed on the Internet.

Within hours, the Church in Rome rowed back on the order and said all parish churches and those run by religious communities could remain open. (Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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