Italy loosens COVID restrictions in five regions, including Lombardy

FILE PHOTO: General view of Milan, as the region of Lombardy becomes a 'red zone' with strict limitations on movement as part of tougher measures to tackle the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Italy, November 6, 2020. REUTERS/Daniele Mascolo

ROME (Reuters) - The Italian government will ease anti-COVID restrictions in five regions from Sunday, including in the country’s richest and most populous region Lombardy, the Health Ministry said.

Lombardy, Piedmont and Calabria will be downgraded from red to orange zones, while Sicily and Liguria will drop from the orange to the yellow zone, which has least restrictions.

Friday’s decision follows a gradual decline in hospitalisations from coronavirus in much of Italy over the past week, with the number of new cases also retreating from highs seen earlier this month.

Italy introduced a three-tier zoning system three weeks ago with calibrated curbs depending on a variety of factors, including infection rates and hospital occupancy.

Red zone residents are only allowed to leave their homes for work, health reasons or emergencies, while bars, restaurants and most shops are shuttered. In the orange zone, people can move freely within their towns and cities, but cannot travel elsewhere. Bars and restaurants are closed, but shops can open.

Abruzzo, Campania, Tuscany, Valle d’Aosta and Bolzano province will all remain in the red zone for now, while Basilicata, Emilia Romagna, Fruili, the Marches, Puglia and Umbria will still be orange.

Italy was the first Western country to be hit by the virus in February, with the outbreak only coming under control after a months-long national lockdown. After a summer lull, infections soared again in October, forcing new government curbs.

As of Friday, 53,677 people have died as a result of the disease in Italy, the second highest toll in Europe after Britain. It has also registered some 1.538 million cases.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Gavin Jones