Conte Says Italy to Extend Virus Lockdown, Protect Business

(Bloomberg) --

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he will extend a nationwide lockdown that is weighing on the economy, as coronavirus cases continue to climb in Europe’s worst outbreak with the number of deaths reaching almost 3,000.

The government will maintain its closure of virtually all retailers except for grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations beyond the original March 25 deadline, the premier said in an interview with Corriere della Sera. Schools, which had been scheduled to reopen April 3, will stay closed longer than originally planned.

“We managed to avoid the collapse of the system and the measures are working,” so they will be extended, Conte said. The government is working on a new decree to allow for billions of euros of public investments.

Italy has the world’s second-highest number of diagnosed cases, with more than 35,000 known infections. The government has approved a 25 billion-euro package ($27 billion) to support its strained health system while helping businesses and families counter the economic impact of the lockdown.

The government is now considering tightening the existing restrictions amid concern that many Italians are not respecting rules that confine them to their homes except for reasons related to work, health or emergencies.

“I want to appeal to the sense of responsibility of all citizens,” Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese told daily la Repubblica. “Stay at home, go out only if there is a strict necessity to do so.”

Italian police performed checks on more than 1 million people between March 11 and March 17, Lamorgese said, citing almost 50,000 for failing to respect the rules. Possible new regulations that could be enacted by March 25 include banning all outdoor sports activities, limiting citizens’ rights to go out for walks and closing grocery stores for all or part of the day on Sundays, Repubblica said.

Italy’s electricity consumption dropped in the past week, a first sign of the deep economic impact of the lockdown. While daily calculations show a 5% drop in electricity on the Terna SpA network in the week through March 15, the grid operator estimates final figures will show the slump is actually about 10%.

Conte may also extend so-called Golden Power protections, which enable the government to block foreign takeovers of Italian companies, to include all companies listed on one of Milan’s exchanges.

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