Rome: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has announced the closure of all retail shops, coffee bars, pubs, restaurants and beauty salons, and called on the private sector to let employees take leave or work from home as much as possible.
The stringent new measures are aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus epidemic, which has so far infected over 10,000 people and killed over 800 in Italy since it first appeared in the country February 21.
The only exceptions, said the prime minister, are supermarkets, pharmacies, public transportation, post offices, banks, farms, and food production industries, which must be kept running in order to guarantee basic services to the public.
The new measures came after the government placed the entire country on lockdown on Tuesday, with its 60 million inhabitants ordered to only leave their homes for strictly necessary reasons, such as buying groceries, going to the doctor, or walking their dogs.
“The time has come to take a further step,” Conte said on Wednesday in a televised message to the nation, adding that “we will only see the effects of this great effort two weeks from now”.
Conte also said he will name Invitalia CEO Domenico Arcuri as a “commissioner with ample powers to ramp up the manufacturing and distribution of intensive care machines and equipment”.
Invitalia is a national agency owned by the Economy Ministry that manages national incentives for new businesses.
Earlier on Wednesday, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.
The WHO announcement came during a press conference by Italy’s Civil Protection Department, when official tallies of cases, fatalities and recoveries are released to the media and the public.
“The declaration of a pandemic doesn’t change anything for us since we have been among the first to experience the epidemic in our country,” Gianni Rezza, who directs the National Institute of Health (ISS) Infectious Diseases Department, told reporters.
“The point the WHO is making is that some countries have not done enough to contain it,” Rezza said. “China has done a lot to contain the infection, (South) Korea is doing all it can, as is Japan… On a personal note, a more decisive reaction by the European Union would be desirable.”