Italy gives timetable for easing COVID-19 restrictions

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ROME, April 16 (Reuters) - Italy will ease coronavirus curbs in many areas from April 26, the government said on Friday, warning caution was still needed to avoid any reversals in the reopening of many long-shuttered activities.

Restrictions on business and movement have been in place for most of this year in Italy, which has the seventh highest death toll in the world and still reports hundreds of fatalities every day.

Current restrictions were set to expire at the start of May, and no decision had been taken on how to replace them.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi set out a broad timetable for reopening after pressure from parties in his national unity administration, particularly the rightist League.

"The government is taking a reasonable risk based on data that is improving, although not dramatically," Draghi told a news conference.

Last month, with cases and hospitalisations rising, Italy paused the four-tier, colour-coded system it uses to calibrate the restrictions in place in its 20 regions and enforced the tougher red or orange zones nationwide.

From April 26, the more lenient yellow and white zones will be reinstated where infection levels are low. In these areas restaurants and bars will be able to serve clients at outside tables and cinemas and theatres will reopen with attendance limits.

"Our idea is to allow open-air swimming pools from May 15 and restart some gym activities on June 1," Health Minister Roberto Speranza told reporters.

Currently, three regions are red and 17 are orange, with severe restrictions on business and movement. With the number of new cases gradually declining, many of these hope to become yellow when the colour zone is reinstated.

Draghi said it would be crucial that people strictly respected social distancing rules and wore face masks to move forward with the reopenings.

"This is based on a premise, that people and institutions observe the rules so that this reasonable risk is successful," he said.

Reporting by Angelo Amante, editing by Crispian Balmer

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