Italy extends COVID curbs amid third wave risks

FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective face mask walks her dog near the Roman Forum, one day before the country goes back to lockdown as part of the efforts put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Rome, Italy, January 4, 2021. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane/File Photo

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Friday issued a new decree extending curbs to keep lid on COVID-19 infections after the health ministry warned that the epidemic was getting worse.

Recorded daily cases have settled at 15,000-20,000 compared with a peak of around 40,000 in mid-November, but pressure on hospitals remains high. Between 400 and 600 people die with the virus each day and the government fears that number will grow.

“In the past week there has been a generalised worsening of the epidemic, we are back to an expansionary phase,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza told parliament on Wednesday.

The new decree extends until March 5 a nightly curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and confirms the zoning system designed in November to calibrate the curbs between Italy’s 20 regions according to infection levels.

Gyms and swimming pools will remain closed across Italy and in-person take-away services will not be allowed after 6 p.m.

The decree also extends to Feb. 15 a ban on movement between regions, with people allowed to travel only for reasons of work, health or other emergencies. Ski resorts will not be allowed to reopen until Feb. 15.

However, offering some hope to lockdown-weary Italians, the government said most curbs can be lifted in individual regions when their infection rates are sufficiently low.

Italy, the first western country hit by the virus, has reported almost 81,000 coronavirus-related deaths since its outbreak came to light in February, the sixth highest tally in the world. It has seen 2.33 million confirmed cases.

While the health emergency rages, the government was this week thrown into a political crisis triggered by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who pulled his small Italia Viva party out of the coalition, depriving it of a majority in parliament.

Reporting by Angelo Amante, editing by Gavin Jones and Philippa Fletcher