Conte to Further Ease Italy Lockdown by Mid-May If Cases Stable

(Bloomberg) --

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is preparing to further ease Italy’s lockdown beginning in mid-May if there is no spike in new virus cases following next week’s initial relaxation.

“We could continue easing the restrictive measures” by mid-May, Conte said in parliament on Thursday. “If the contagion curve doesn’t grow, we are going to allow reopenings of shops, restaurants and services,” the premier said, warning that the country is not “free of pandemic yet.”

Conte has faced criticism as he struggles to map a way out and restart the country’s crippled economy. Former Premier Matteo Renzi, who heads a junior member in Italy’s ruling coalition, has accused Conte of trampling on constitutional rights with too many decrees instead of seeking votes in parliament.

Opposition leader Matteo Salvini of the League party spent the night in parliament to protest against what he charges is the lack of a proper plan for the country to move forward.

Conte on Thursday acknowledged that his government’s decisions have fueled debate but warned that a full reopening would significantly boost the number of new cases and that the country can’t yet go back to normality.

Italy, the original epicenter of the European virus outbreak, has reported over 203,000 cases and 27,000 related fatalities.

Italy will start to gradually east its two-month lockdown May 4. The new rules, many the result of hard-fought negotiations with factions in the coalition, call for construction and manufacturing to resume next week while retailers and museums will reopen on May 18 and bar and restaurants in June. Schools will remain shut until September.

Conte’s hold on the emergency has been shaken by continual clashes with regional leaders, especially governors from the prosperous North, where businesses have pushed for a quicker end to the lockdown. He’s also been hamstrung by a bureaucratic tangle delaying pledged assistance to workers and small businesses.

The premier is seeking to prevent a recession that the government sees shrinking GDP by 8% this year in Europe’s fourth-biggest economy, which lagged behind its euro-area peers even before the pandemic struck.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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