Milan offers some cheer to suffering bars as coronavirus cases climb in Italy

MILAN (Reuters) - Bars and clubs in Milan can re-open in the evenings, local authorities announced on Wednesday, in the first rollback of tough restrictions imposed at the weekend to try to contain a coronavirus outbreak in Italy.

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The move came even as the number of cases nationwide jumped by almost 100 in a day to more than 400, while the death toll rose to 12 since last Friday.

The outbreak is centered on Italy’s industrial heartlands of Lombardy and Veneto, and the government has closed schools and universities, shuttered cinemas and banned public events in an effort to prevent the spread of the highly infectious disease.

Hotels say they have been hit by cancellations while bar, club and disco owners wrote to the mayor of Lombardy’s capital, Milan, to urge him to lift a 6.00 p.m. curfew on their operations.

“Our sector, which has helped Milan sparkle in the world, has been brought to its knees by the ban,” said a petition on Facebook which was launched by Santeria Toscana 31 club and was rapidly signed by more than 100 other businesses.

But even though early closing was lifted in time for Wednesday evening trade, there seemed to be few people around to take advantage in the eerily empty city.

“We have reverted to usual hours,” said Antonio Musotto, manager of the Archimede Caffe. “The problem is the people have vanished.”

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The European Union’s health chief Stella Kyriakides, on a visit to Rome, called for calm as Italy’s government prepared measures to try to bolster the economy, which looks certain to tip into recession because of the contagion.

“This is a situation of concern, but we must not give in to panic,” Kyriakides said after meeting Italy’s health minister and the regional head of the World Health Organization (WHO).

“There are still many unknowns about this virus and in particular its origin and how it spreads.”

The head of the national Civil Protection agency, Angelo Borrelli, told reporters the death toll from the flare-up had risen to 12 from 11 the day before, with a 69-year old man dying in the northern region of Emilia Romagna.

Like all those who have died so far, the man had underlying health problems that made him vulnerable to the disease.

In all, almost 420 cases have been registered, including at least six children.

Italians or people who had recently visited the north of the country have tested positive in Greece, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Croatia and France since the weekend.

Concern over infections meant Inter Milan’s Europa League match at home against Bulgaria’s Ludogorets Razgrad must be played behind closed doors on Thursday.

Irish rugby authorities postponed the country’s Six Nations fixture against Italy in Dublin on March 7 to prevent any Italian supporters from unwittingly bringing the coronavirus to Ireland.

Reporting by Elvira Pollina, Riccardo Bastianello and John Chalmers; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Gareth Jones