'It's the final blow': businesses angry at Italy's new Covid rules

From ski resorts in the north to restaurants in the south, many Italians have been making their objections heard to the government’s latest measures to combat escalating coronavirus infections.

The prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, said the restrictions, which include the 6pm closure of bars and restaurants and complete closure of gyms, swimming pools, cinemas, theatres and ski stations, were needed so that people could enjoy a “serene Christmas”.

But the holiday period will be far from serene for businesses already reeling from the impact of the country’s spring shutdown and that might never reopen. “A calm Christmas is impossible,” said Paolo Bianchini, a restaurant owner in the Lazio town of Viterbo and president of MIO, a hospitality sector association.

Bars and restaurants are the lifeblood of the economy for so many Italian cities and towns, particularly in the south. In Sicily, for example, the number of restaurants has grown by 50% over the last eight years, according to figures from Unioncamere-Infocamere, an agricultural union.

“It’s an injustice and a final blow that we didn’t deserve,” said Giada Penna, who owns Il Mirto e la Rosa restaurant in Palermo.

Bianchini estimates that 50% of restaurants, which were already operating at reduced capacity, will not open at all over the next month as the cost of doing so will far outweigh revenues.

“We would like to know on what scientific basis it was decided to close restaurants,” he said. “We have done everything possible to work safely, for our own health and for that of our families too. So we would like to know if there is data that proves we are the spreaders.”

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The government has promised a funding package for businesses affected by the measures, which will be in place until 24 November. “What matters now is how much and when. We need the support quickly,” added Bianchini.

Anger simmered across other sectors on Monday as the new rules came into force. Leaders of the northern Aosta Valley region decried the closure of ski stations a day after they reopened as “a very heavy attack on the mountains”. Owners of gyms and swimming pools protested in Cosenza in Calabria, while Luigi de Magistris, the mayor of Naples, said the closure of cinemas and theatres would “kill off culture”.

Amity Neumeister, who owns Zem yoga studio in central Rome, said: “We have been doing everything possible to keep everyone safe and understand that we have to stop the spread of the virus … but the country is already depressed mentally and economically, and this is another blow.”

Conte acknowledged the growing “fatigue, anger and social inequality” being caused by the pandemic on Sunday but said the restrictions were necessary to protect a health system already under strain.

Italy’s daily infection tally has increased more than fivefold since 8 October, reaching more than 21,000 on Sunday, while admissions into intensive care across the country have more than tripled to 1,208 in less than three weeks.

Italy cases

Poorer southern regions will bear the brunt of measures.

“These new restrictions risk widening the gap between the north and south,” said Vincenzo Provenzano, an economics professor at the University of Palermo. “Put yourself in the shoes of someone living in the south: as the government closes restaurants that are fundamental for the south’s economy, that same government keeps factories open, which not only are a source of outbreaks and circulation of the virus, but these same factories are located primarily in the north.

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“This is how the decree is perceived as an injustice by people living in the south.”

Countries across Europe are struggling with the economic impact of the pandemic. In Germany, the chancellor, Angela Merkel, said the country was on the verge of losing control of its fight against the coronavirus.

Leaks from an address by Merkel to an internal party meeting show she warned of “very, very difficult months ahead” in which “every day” would count in terms of tackling the virus’s spread.

A similar sense of concern was also visible in France where the head of the scientific council that advises the government, Jean-François Delfraissy, said the real figure for infections in the country was probably twice the official figure and close to 100,000 a day.

France registered a record 52,010 new confirmed coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, the health ministry said in a statement on Sunday, as a second wave of cases surges through Europe.

Belgians are also facing a pivotal week, as a series of new restrictions come into force in one of the European countries hit hardest by the pandemic. Almost 12,500 new cases are being reported on average every 24 hours, figures released on Monday for the week of 16-22 October showed, compared with about 5,000 a day two weeks ago. About one person in every five who is tested turns out to be positive.

Pressure is building on Belgium’s hospitals, with 467 people admitted on average each day, a rise of 85%. Almost 5,000 people are in hospitals, more than 750 of them in intensive care, according to the latest data.

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“What we do now, what we will do in the next two weeks, will be decisive,” said Yves Van Laethem, a spokesman for Belgium’s Covid-19 crisis centre. If the figures did not change, he said, “we are likely to reach 2,000 patients in intensive care in two weeks. That is, our maximum capacity.”


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