WORLD / EUROPE
Italy reopens leisure venues as parliament debates EU recovery plan
Published: Apr 26, 2021 05:43 PM
Bars, restaurants, cinemas and concert halls were scheduled to partially reopen across Italy on Monday, in a boost for coronavirus-hit businesses, as the parliament debates the government's 220 billion euro ($266 billion) EU-funded recovery plan.

After months of stop-start restrictions imposed to manage its second and third waves of COVID-19, Italy hopes this latest easing will mark the start of something like a normal summer.

Three-quarters of regions will drop into the low-risk "yellow" categories from Monday, with bars and ­restaurants permitted to restart table service ­outside, including, for the first time in six months, in the evening, although a 10:00 pm curfew remains in place.

Cinemas, theatres and concert halls can also open at 50 percent capacity, ­followed by the staggered opening of swimming pools, gyms, sporting events and theme parks by July 1.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has been under intense pressure from regional governments and increasingly regular street protests to ease restrictions, as Italy battles its deepest recession since World War II.

He has admitted to taking a "­calculated risk," as infection rates and intensive care admissions fall but deaths still mount at more than 300 every day to more than 119,000.

The vaccination program is gaining pace with more than 17.5 million jabs administered so far in a population of around 60 million, but there are disparities between regions.

"Clearly if the gradual reopening is interpreted as a 'free-for-all,' a new surge in infections risks compromising the summer season," warned Nino ­Cartabellotta, head of the GIMBE Foundation health think tank.

Italy was the first European country to be hit by the pandemic in early 2020 and remains one of the worst affected, with the European Union's highest reported death toll and one of the deepest recessions.

The economy contracted by a staggering 8.9 percent last year and 1 million jobs have been lost.

Italy is pinning its hopes on a 222.1 billion euro investment and reform plan funded largely by the EU. 

Rome is the biggest recipient of the bloc's 750 billion euro post-pandemic recovery fund.
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