Italy on Sunday ordered bars and restaurants to close by 6 p.m. and shut public gyms, cinemas and swimming pools to try to halt a rapid resurgence in the coronavirus that has pushed daily infection rates to new records.
The measures, which take effect on Monday and were agreed between Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government in Rome and regional authorities, arrived after two nights of protests in Naples and Rome against curfews introduced in a number of regions last week.
Aware of the huge cost of shutting down the economy, the Rome government has said it does not want to repeat the blanket lockdown ordered in the first phase of the crisis. But it has been forced to ratchet up restrictions steadily as the pandemic has raced ahead after slowing down in the summer.
The decree encourages people not to go out and to limit contacts at home with anyone outside their immediate family, but does not impose a mandatory nationwide curfew or lockdown and allows shops and most businesses to remain open.
The decree also directs that up to three quarters of high school teaching should be done online to limit the number of pupils in school buildings.
Italy, once the country hardest hit by the pandemic in the industrialised world, has been overtaken by others in Europe including Spain, France and Britain, but case rates have been rebounding rapidly and health services have come under increasing pressure.
The protests in Naples and Rome, while limited in scale, underlined the tense political climate facing Conte’s coalition government between the anti-establishment 5 Star Movement and the centre-left Democratic Party.
Conte was generally praised for his handling of the initial phase of the crisis but has come under increasing fire for failing to strengthen preparations including testing and contact tracing over the summer.