Italy will be under another coronavirus lockdown for much of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the latest shutdown Friday after days of debate over how the government can stymie a new surge in cases, Reuters reported.
“The situation is difficult across Europe. The virus continues to circulate everywhere,” Conte told reporters. “Our experts were seriously worried that there would be a jump in cases over Christmas. … We therefore had to act, but I can assure you it was not an easy decision.”
Under the new rules, non-essential shops will be shuttered Dec. 24-27, Dec. 31- Jan. 3 and Jan. 5 and 6. On those days, Italians will only be allowed to travel for work, health or emergency reasons. Limited visits will be allowed — for example, to see elderly parents living alone.
Conte called on Italians to act responsibly but claimed police wouldn’t be sent into houses to see if residents were following the rules.
Shops can open Dec. 28-30 and on Jan. 4, and people can leave their houses on those days. All bars and restaurants must remain closed, however.
Conte declared that the launch of the vaccination drive later this month would mark the beginning of “the end of this nightmare,” the BBC reported.
Elsewhere in Europe, Netherlands and Germany also have lockdowns until January. Austria is slated to go into lockdown after Christmas and Sweden is tightening restrictions, including requiring face masks on public transportation and reducing restaurant capacity.
Italy was the first Western country to be badly hit by the virus in February. As of Friday, the country’s COVID-19 death toll stood at 67,894 — the highest in Europe.
Italy has had on-again, off-again curbs on shopping and activities since cases started rising again in October.
Last month, Pope Francis canceled or modified most his Christmas activities, including a wreath-blessing ceremony at the Spanish Steps that traditionally marks the start of Advent.
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