Italy to ease coronavirus rules from April 26

Rome (AFP) –


Italy will ease coronavirus restrictions for schools and restaurants from April 26, Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced Friday, in response to increasing lockdown fatigue in the country.

Expressing "cautious optimism", Draghi said his government was taking a "calculated risk" following an improvement in infection numbers and progress with vaccinations.

Looser "yellow zone" rules, suspended in the past few weeks to contain a surge in cases fuelled by new virus variants, will be reintroduced for regions with relatively low infection number.

"We will give priority to outdoor activities," Draghi said, hinting at a return to al fresco eating in bars and restaurants.

He said all students would return to school in "yellow" and "orange" regions, while in higher-risk "red" regions there would still be some online lessons.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza, speaking alongside the prime minister, also announced the planned reopening of swimming pools on May 15 and of gyms on June 1.

However, he said the government could not promise a date in which the economy would fully reopen.

"It would not be honest," Speranza said.

The government is under pressure to ease restrictions after a string of protests, some of which turned violent, from a wide range of groups, from entertainment workers to restaurant owners.

"These measures are a response to the sufferings of many," Draghi said, adding that they "bring greater serenity in the country and lay the ground for the relaunch of the economy".

The premier, a former European Central Bank chief who took office in February to lead a national unity government, said he expected "a very strong (economic) rebound in the coming months".

On Thursday, the government adopted new economic forecasts projecting gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 4.5 percent in 2021 and 4.8 percent in 2022, after a record fall of 8.9 percent in 2020.

The recovery cannot come too soon, as Italy has paid a heavy price from the pandemic.

The recession has cost almost one million jobs and the country has reported some 116,000 deaths from Covid-19, the sixth-highest official toll in the world and the highest in the European Union.