Italy Rules Out a New Lockdown Despite Surge in Virus Cases
(Bloomberg) -- Italy has ruled out imposing a new nationwide lockdown despite an upsurge in coronavirus cases, as the country struggles to emerge from the worst recession in living memory.
The increase in contagion has been limited, with very low impact on health services, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said in an interview with Bloomberg News.
“I exclude the hypothesis of a lockdown for our country now,” Speranza, 41, said at his Rome office Wednesday. “We have few cases and the situation is under control, with pressure on hospitals that is very low, minimal.” The minister noted that during the peak of the virus crisis Italy had 4,068 patients in intensive care, compared with just 66 as of Tuesday.
“A generalized lockdown is not a prospect for us, also because we have reinforced the health service, we are faster at doing tests,” said Speranza, a lawmaker from junior coalition party Article One. “We’re also doing tests at airports for people who come from at-risk countries.” The average age of people who’ve tested positive in the last week is 30, and most have mild symptoms or none at all, he said.
The three-month national lockdown in Italy, the original European epicenter of the virus, took a heavy toll on the economy. The government forecasts that GDP will contract 8% in 2020, while analysts see a 10% decline.
The number of new cases has increased almost daily in recent weeks, with about half involving Italians returning from vacations either within the country or abroad. The increase is, however, smaller than in other European countries including Spain, France and Germany. Italy registered 876 new cases Tuesday, with the total number of infections now at 261,174.
Asked how much the government weighs economic factors in deciding on restrictions, Speranza said, “I believe it’s a serious mistake to set the health issue and the economic and financial issue against each other. Winning the health battle is the premise for an economic and financial recovery.”
Noting that Italy has often been praised for how it contained the pandemic, Speranza said the government has always focused on public health, which triggered what was a “very, very serious, rigorous lockdown.” Italians broadly complied with rules on wearing masks and social distancing, he added.
“I hear people say that Italy is a model, but I am very cautious,” Speranza warned. “We still have much to do. God forbid people should think that the battle has been won.”
Reopening the nation’s schools, set for Sept. 14, will be the next test for the Rome government, and opposition politicians have already accused the administration of being unprepared and failing to produce precise guidelines.
The government is working to ensure “maximum security” at schools, Speranza said, noting that any positive cases among students or staff would trigger contact tracing but not necessarily lead to school closures.
Speranza said he’s hopeful that a vaccine being developed at Rome’s Lazzaro Spallanzani Institute, which started human trials Monday, could produce “the first solid results” by the end of the year.
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