Italian PM defends his lockdown strategy as regional leaders challenge him

Moves by centre-right-led regions in opening up activities ahead of the government's lockdown easing schedule are "rash and illegitimate", Italian PM Giuseppe Conte told parliament on Thursday. Rightwing League-led northern regions like Lombardy and Veneto have said they will come out of lockdown quicker than the government programme of gradually easing confinement from Monday, while the centre-right led Calabrian region has reopened bars and restaurants with seats outside.

"We can't allow the efforts made to become vain due to imprudence shown in this delicate phase," Conte said. He believes that moving from a policy of closing everything to reopening everything, would risk irreversibly compromising these efforts. The premier said the government "cannot assure in an immediate way a return to normality. He however promised more reopening in May if there are fewer infections, there will be more reopenings in May." He Conte announced €15bn in aid for businesses in an upcoming decree and said the government would weigh "the possible reopening, on an experimental footing, of children's nurseries and infant schools, as well as summer camps".

The premier also said officials would carry out some 150,000 tests in May to see how many people were developing antibodies to fight the virus. An app to trace contacts between potentially infected people would be voluntary. The virus reproduction number (R0) in Italy was currently between 0.5 and 0.7 -- meaning 10 virus sufferers infect between five and seven other people. Should it rise again to 1.0, intensive care units would once again be overwhelmed, Conte said.

His speech to the lower house was delayed after opposition members complained that the prime minister was not wearing a mask. The far-right League party's head Matteo Salvini accused Conte of extending the lockdown because it was the easy option and stripping Italians of their fundamental freedoms. He said his party was deliberating whether to join grassroots protests called for Saturday.

More on this subject: Coronavirus

Similar articles