Italy imposes partial lockdown for Christmas, New Year holiday
Published: Dec 19, 2020 08:03 AM

People wearing face masks visit a Christmas tree at Piazza Venezia in Rome, Italy, Dec. 14, 2020. (Xinhua/Cheng Tingting)

Italians will have to spend much of the Christmas and New Year holiday in a nationwide "red zone" in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced in a nationally televised press conference on Friday evening.

Italy reported 17,992 new coronavirus infections, 22,272 recoveries, and 674 deaths on Friday. These were down from 18,236 new cases, 27,913 recoveries, and 683 deaths on Thursday, according to the Ministry of Health.

"The situation remains difficult, in Italy and in Europe," Conte said. "The virus continues to circulate everywhere."

He explained that the whole of Italy will become a designated "red" or high-risk zone from Dec. 24 to Jan. 6.

The Italian government had, in early November, introduced a three-tier system and split the country into three zones -- red for the highest risk, orange for medium risk, and yellow for low risk -- according to the level of virus transmission and the situation of the public health system in each region.

The "red zones" are subjected to restrictions equal to a partial lockdown. People living in red zones can't leave the house except for provable work or health-related reasons and are banned from traveling in or out of their regions and municipalities. Bars, restaurants and all retailers except groceries, pharmacies, and newsstands must shut down.

However, Conte added that during the festivities, people will be allowed to invite a maximum of two adult guests to their homes, plus any number of children up to 14 years of age.

The prime minister also explained that there will be four exceptions to the red zone -- on Dec. 28, 29, and 30 and Jan. 4 -- during which shops will be able to open and people will be free to leave their houses. Throughout the holiday period, all bars and restaurants in Italy must remain closed.

Conte also said that the Italian government has set aside 645 million euros (790 million U.S. dollars) in what he called an "immediate relief package" for bars, restaurants and retailers who will incur economic losses due to the holiday lockdown.

As the world is struggling to contain the pandemic, countries including Italy, France, China, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States are racing to find a vaccine.

According to the website of the World Health Organization, as of Dec. 16, there were 222 COVID-19 candidate vaccines being developed worldwide, and 56 of them were in clinical trials. Enditem
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