Italy imposes post-holiday COVID curbs to keep lid on infections

FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective face mask walks her dog near the Roman Forum, one day before the country goes back to lockdown as part of the efforts put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Rome, Italy, January 4, 2021. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane/File Photo

ROME (Reuters) – Italian ministers decided to keep nationwide restrictions in place this weekend to slow coronavirus infections, but agreed to relax curbs on weekdays.

Italians spent much of Christmas and New Year at home, with people allowed to leave their houses only for work, health and emergencies, or for brief trips to see a limited number of friends or relatives.

These rules are set to expire on Thursday and ministers agreed at a late Monday night cabinet meeting to return to the old, three-tier system, which allows for different measures to be applied to different regions.

But all bars and restaurants across the country will have to close this weekend, with travel between towns and cities kept to a minimum.

The government has also decided to postpone the Thursday reopening of high schools to 50% of their capacity until Monday. Some regions, including northern Veneto around Venice, have decided to delay the reopening until Jan. 31.

The number of daily cases has fallen from a high of around 40,000 in mid-November to well under 20,000 at present, but the infection rate has vacillated, with many hundreds dying each day.

The government decree also extended to Jan. 15 a ban already in place on movement between Italy’s 20 regions, with travel permitted only for work, health or emergencies.

Italy, the first Western country to be hit by COVID-19, has reported nearly 76,000 deaths since February, the fifth highest world tally.

On Saturday, the Health Ministry pushed back the re-opening of the ski resorts to Jan. 18 from a previously planned Jan. 8, saying the closure was extended at the request of regional governors and on the advice of health experts.

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