Covid: Italy the latest European country to impose a christmas freeze


Italy has imposed a nationwide lockdown over much of the Christmas and New Year period to fight a surge in coronavirus cases.

Over the holidays, the country will be divided into a “red zone” where non-essential stores, restaurants and bars will be closed and Italians will be permitted to travel only for work, health and emergency reasons.

Restricted home visits will be allowed.

Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s prime minister, said it was “not an easy decision.”

“Our experts were seriously concerned that there would be a surge in cases over Christmas…. That’s why we had to act,” he said in a press conference.

Italy has had the highest covid death rate in Europe, with nearly 68,000 deaths.

Mr. Conte stated that the start of the vaccination campaign later this month would mark “the beginning of the end of this nightmare.

Friday’s announcement of the Christmas restrictions followed days of wrangling in the governing coalition between those who wanted a full lockdown and others who sought limited measures to help struggling businesses and allow families to get together.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron remains in self-isolation at the official presidential residence La Lanterne in Versailles after testing positive for Covid-19. Mr. Macron said he is suffering from fatigue, headaches and a dry cough.

What are the rules?
The “red zone” restrictions will apply throughout Italy from Dec. 24 to 27, Dec. 31 to Jan. 3 and Jan. 5 to 6.

During this time, people are allowed to “leave the house only for reasons of work, necessity and health,” Mr. Conte said.

But, he added, the rules will allow people to receive a maximum of two guests in their homes, including no people under 14. A curfew from 22:00 to 05:00 will be maintained.

Slightly relaxed restrictions will apply from December 28 to 30 and on January 4. On those days, people can leave their homes, but bars and restaurants will remain closed.

Mr. Conte said the rules are meant to allow “a minimum of socialization that is appropriate for this time.”

He said police will not be sent into people’s homes to check compliance with the rules, but urged Italians to behave responsibly.

What’s happening elsewhere in Europe?
A number of European countries have tightened restrictions in the run-up to Christmas after a wave of infections.

The Netherlands and Germany have imposed closures until January. In Germany, there will be a slight relaxation at Christmas, with a household allowed up to four close family members.

In Austria, the government announced Friday that the country will be under lockdown for the third time after Christmas. Starting Dec. 26, non-essential stores will be closed and movement outside homes will be restricted.

Sweden has recommended wearing face masks on public transportation during rush hour, reversing its earlier recommendation. In addition, the number of people seated together in restaurants will be reduced from the current eight to four per table, and the sale of alcohol after 8 p.m. will be banned.



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