Italy, Spain to extend restrictions

More than 70,000 people have lost their lives in the 2 countries, accounting for more than a third of all deaths in Europe

HONG KONG • Italy and Spain are preparing to extend virus restrictions this week as new cases surge in the two countries that were at the epicentre of the initial wave of the pandemic in Europe.

In Italy, Prime Minister (PM) Giuseppe Conte’s government drafted a plan to limit opening hours for bars and restaurants, and shut entertainment and gambling venues and gyms, according to a draft of the new measures. Italians will also be urged not to travel. The measures may take effect as soon as today.

Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez held a Cabinet meeting in Madrid yesterday to discuss a new state of emergency that will give the central government more powers to impose curfews and other measures. Some regional governments have requested the move because they don’t currently have the legal power to impose curfews.

Italy and Spain had managed to tamp down the initial wave infections with some of the world’s strictest national lockdowns. The easing of those measures before the summer travel season contributed to a new wave of cases that risks overwhelming the countries’ healthcare systems if unchecked. More than 70,000 people have lost their lives from the virus in the two countries, accounting for more than a third of all deaths recorded in Europe, excluding Russia.

Sanchez last week signalled that infections in Spain may be much more pervasive than the official data show. More than three million people in Spain have caught the virus, he said last Friday, a figure some three times higher than official numbers.

For his part, Conte has repeatedly ruled out a new national lockdown in Italy, but he is running out of options as less restrictive measures have failed to damp the latest spread. New infections rose to a record 19,644 on Saturday and there are now more than 1,100 people being treated in intensive care units (ICUs) for the virus.

The Italian government may also adopt new support measures to limit the economic impact of the virus, Finance Minister Roberto Gualtieri said. The government is mulling a €4 billion to €5 billion (RM24.54 billion) emergency decree to aid workers by extending furloughs and banning dismissals, according to people familiar with the matter. — Bloomberg