Italy Extends Lockdown to May in Signal to European Business
Parked cars line a street devoid of traffic in Milan, Italy. (Photographer: Francesca Volpi/Bloomberg)

Italy Extends Lockdown to May in Signal to European Business

(Bloomberg) -- Italy extended a national lockdown until May 3, rejecting calls by business leaders to allow a gradual restart of the economy.

The decision reflects a pattern playing out in many parts of Europe as health officials and politicians warn against letting up too early on restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus and avoid a second wave of infections.

As deaths surpassed 100,000 worldwide on Friday, the absence of public Easter holiday celebrations in Europe underscored the pandemic’s decimating impact on public life and business. Italy, Spain, France and the U.K. reported more than 3,000 new virus-linked deaths over the latest 24-hour period.

“There are clear indications that the restrictive measures are bearing fruit,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said at a news conference. “If we yield now we would risk, as our experts tell us, losing all the positive results we have achieved so far.”

Italy Extends Lockdown to May in Signal to European Business

With a ban on non-essential business crippling Europe’s weakest major economy, Conte said he was giving a limited range of business and shops a waiver to resume activity. He held out the prospect of a gradual restart of normal life after May 3, though strict health protocols would remain in force.

Conte named Vittorio Colao, former chief executive officer of Vodafone Group Plc, to head a task force that will help map Italy’s exit from the lockdown. The country “can’t wait for the virus to disappear completely,” Conte said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. said it will provide medical supplies and help set up field hospitals in Italy, according to a memorandum released by the White House on Friday night.

The U.K. reported its biggest daily increase in deaths since the outbreak began as 980 patients succumbed to the coronavirus in the latest period, increasing the death toll to almost 9,000.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been receiving treatment for coronavirus in a London hospital, has “been able to do short walks, between periods of rest, as part of the care he is receiving to aid his recovery,” a spokesman said.

Spain, which has Europe’s second-highest death toll after Italy, reported the smallest increase in coronavirus fatalities since March 24 on Friday.

Pale Sunlight

People in Spain are settling in for at least another two weeks of a lockdown that only allows people out to supermarkets and pharmacies. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the state of emergency, prolonged on Thursday, is likely to be extended again beyond April 25.

France reported the most new coronavirus deaths among Europe’s four worst-hit countries. After more than three weeks of lockdown, President Emmanuel Macron will address the nation on Monday about extending confinement measures.

While the number of patients in intensive care in France fell for the second consecutive day, a senior health official cautioned against reading too much into the data.

“It’s a very slight decrease,” Director General for Health Jerome Salomon said at a briefing. “It’s a pale ray of sunlight.”

Italy’s restrictions ban movement within the country and confine people to their homes except for work, health or emergency reasons. The euro area’s third-biggest economy is poised to shrink by 15% this year, according to UniCredit SpA.

Conte made limited concessions on Friday, saying bookshops, stationery stores, sellers of baby clothes and companies linked to forestry could reopen.

‘Insufficient’ Response

He said he’ll continue pressing for common European debt — so-called eurobonds — as the best instrument for the European Union response to the devastating economic impact.

Euro-area finance ministers on Thursday agreed on a 540 billion-euro ($590 billion) package of measures, including a temporary fund to spark the recovery. They avoided the most divisive question, mentioning only “innovative financial instruments” rather than an explicit reference to joint debt as demanded by Italy and other countries.

Conte rebuffed allegations by the League party’s Matteo Salvini and other opposition leaders that his government had signed up to seek the help of the European Stability Mechanism, the euro area’s bailout fund.

Italy won’t tap a credit line worth as much as 240 billion euros for medical spending and will veto any “insufficient” aid package, Conte said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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