Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte marked Italy’s national day with an appeal to citizens to work together to revive the country, as his government prepares to lift restrictions on domestic travel from Wednesday.
With the number of new coronavirus cases continuing to decline, Italians will be allowed to travel freely around the country again, ending almost three months of confinement to their home region to limit transmission of the disease.
Conte is sticking with the plan announced last month despite threats from officials in the south to turn away citizens from Lombardy. Italy’s richest and most populous region around Milan was the epicenter of one of Europe’s most-extensive outbreaks.
“Let’s combine and concentrate all our energy in the shared effort to pick ourselves up and begin again with maximum determination,” Conte said in a message posted Tuesday on Facebook, evoking efforts to rebuild the nation after World War II.
“Everyone must do their part, as it has always been in the most difficult moments in our history,” he added. “Italy, our community, is our strength.”
The Health Ministry on Monday reported the fewest new infections — 178 — since the final week of February when the emergency took hold. Lombardy accounts for almost half of the more than 33,000 fatalities nationwide and the region still has the highest ratio of new cases per 100,000 people, according to ministry data.
As well as the protests from southern officials, Italian opposition leaders Matteo Salvini, Giorgia Meloni and Antonio Tajani marched together in central Rome Tuesday to protest against the government’s management of the pandemic. They were accompanied by hundreds of supporters, many of them ignoring social-distancing rules.
“Let’s resist the temptation to work toward division and to waste energy in highlighting differences at this moment of great difficulty,” Conte said.
President Sergio Mattarella echoed Conte’s appeal for unity in his annual speech Tuesday for “Republic Day,” when Italy celebrates the decision to discontinue the monarchy on June 2, 1946.
“The revamp won’t be fast, we need courage and caution,” said Mattarella, who traveled to Codogno, the small town 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Milan where the virus outbreak started with the so-called “patient 1.”
From Wednesday, Italians will no longer need to submit a form to leave their region, or require a professional reason or urgent need to travel, freeing millions of people to visit relatives and friends.
The move is also designed to help boost the tourist sector, which accounts for about 13% of gross domestic product. Italy will also allowing Europeans to enter the country without the need to enter quarantine.
Railway operator Ferrovie dello Stato is doubling the number of long-haul trains from June 3, with fewer seats to facilitate distancing. Struggling airline Alitalia is increasing flights by 36% this month, including a non-stop Rome-New York route.
Some restrictions remain in place. Schools won’t reopen before September, while cinemas and theaters will be allowed to operate again from mid-June.
Italy’s economy shrank 5.3% in the first quarter, the most since the current data series began in the mid-1990s. A deeper contraction is expected this quarter and the full-year slump is likely to exceed 10%, according to economists.
The recession, along with extra spending on health measures, has prompted additional government borrowing, adding to the nation’s already considerable debt pile.
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