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Italy to go into lockdown for Christmas and New Year’s festivities

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The Italian government announced a nationwide lockdown for the year-end holidays on Friday after experts warned the country was still at high risk from the coronavirus epidemic.

So-called “red zone” restrictions have been put in place, restricting people to their homes, except for work, health, or urgent reasons, and most businesses are closing.

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They will be valid from December 24th to 27th, December 31st to January 3rd and January 5th to 6th, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said after a cabinet meeting.

The move was decided when “there is a strong concern among our experts that the infection curve might rise over the Christmas period,” Conte told reporters.

On December 28th, 30th and January 4th, somewhat looser measures will apply to the “orange zone” allowing people to move within their homes and businesses, with the exception of bars and restaurants.

During those dates, those who live in smaller towns are allowed to travel within a 30-kilometer radius of their place of residence, with the exception of provincial capitals, Conte said.

However, Conte announced some loopholes: During the closing days, a maximum of two visitors and all accompanying children under the age of 14 may be welcomed into their homes.

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He also pledged a € 645 million ($ 790 million) economic aid package to bars and restaurants affected by mandatory closings.

A weekly health ministry report on virus trends on Friday showed an increase in reproductive value (R), a key indicator that measures the rate at which the virus is spreading.

The R value increased from 0.82 to 0.86. It rose “for the first time in several weeks,” said chief ministerial official Giovani Rezza in a statement.

For the epidemic to be under control, the value must be below 1.

“The virus continues to circulate everywhere. It can be tamed, but it cannot be defeated, ”said Conte.

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The government introduced an earlier round of antivirus restrictions on the year-end holidays earlier this month, including extending a nightly curfew and restricting travel between regions.

Until last week, Italian leaders played with loose virus rules, but a darkening epidemiological perspective forced a change of heart.

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Talk of new restrictions on the Christmas season dominated the public debate all week and, as on previous occasions in Italy, government decisions were preceded by confusing rumors and speculation.

Italy is one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic. With a population of 60 million, it has recorded nearly 68,000 Covid-19-related deaths, more than any other country in Europe.

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