By George Stephens • 12 March 2020 • 9:44
On Wednesday evening, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced a new wave of increased restrictions during a press conference. The new rules mean all commercial activities will close, apart from pharmacies and food shops.
Conte’s impassioned speech came after a growing demand for the government to impose even stricter closures, as previous restrictions were not being fully respected. In Venice, a party of 10 had to be broken up while a further 10 people were caught drinking together in the street. In Sicily, a funeral went ahead despite the ban on gatherings, resulting in 48 people facing charges.
The hashtag #iorestoacasa, meaning “I stay at home”, has gone viral across social media in an effort to urge people to avoid contact with others as much as possible, despite there not having been a concrete ban on leaving the house.
The country had been relying on citizens’ sense of civic duty to remain at home as much as possible and not congregate in public spaces. But there has been growing anger at those flaunting these restrictions and recommendations.
Luca Zaia, president of the Veneto region, spoke publicly on Wednesday in an urgent appeal for people to stay at home. “Either you stay at home,” he warned, “or in a month we will have two million cases in the Veneto.” In the press conference, he also stated, “I don’t want to see people on the beach, I don’t want to see people out for a walk, I don’t want to see people in the square. This must be understood.”
Now, new rules mean those leaving the house may need to prove their reasons. In the press conference, Conte announced that people should stay indoors unless they need to buy necessities such as food. They are also permitted to travel for work if they are unable to switch to remote working.
Some towns, have announced that the local police force will be patrolling the streets, breaking up any groups of people.
However, some are questioning why bars and cafès had been allowed to remain open considering their main function is to facilitate social interaction. “Now is not the time for having a Spritz in company,” said one restaurant owner in Venice, who had already chosen to close until April 3rd, the date until which the current restrictions will remain in place.
Conte’s new restrictions now mean bars, restaurant, and shops must remain closed, although home delivery is permitted. Other exemptions are large businesses such as factories provided they adopt “appropriate security measures to prevent contagion,” according to Conte.
Italy has now recorded 827 deaths and over 12,000 people infected by the COVID-19 virus since its outbreak in the country around three weeks ago. The sudden rise in cases in the last few days has been prompting ever tighter restrictions.
The new restrictions will certainly weigh heavily on the social fabric of communities, but authorities are warning that the country is at a crucial point. “In five days we will be at the peak,” said Zaia. “If we don’t intervene now with the help of everyone, we won’t be able to overcome this moment.”
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