Restaurateurs protest in Rome over Italy closures

Rome (AFP) –


Several hundred people protested in Italy's capital on Monday against weeks of restaurant closures due to Covid-19, restrictions that many worry will continue through April.

The protest by restaurant owners and others in Rome was the latest in a series of anti-lockdown demonstrations across Italy, including a Saturday protest in Naples by shopkeepers and a similar protest by restaurateurs in the capital last week.

Under rainy skies, police in riot gear confined protestors to a central plaza after blocking them from an area outside Chigi Palace, the prime minister's office, where authorized demonstrations typically take place.

Members of the far-right, waving Italy's tricolor flag, joined the protest, some throwing bottles, smoke bombs and flash bombs at police.

The whole of Italy was locked down over the Easter holidays, with all restaurants, bars and cafes ordered shut except for takeout service.

The subsequent partial loosening of restrictions in some regions of Italy, did not however include the reopening of restaurants, which for now are expected to remain shuttered until month's end.

One protestor, who gave his name as Maurizio, said his restaurant was near failing.

"To the (Health) Minister Speranza I want to say 'Reduce your salary by 80 percent and let's see how many of these people will make it,'" he said. "Because I cannot keep my company open like this."

On Thursday, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said he hoped before the end of the month to loosen certain anti-Covid measures, such as the curbs on restaurant dining. But he needed to wait for new health data before deciding.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza meanwhile reiterated the need for "the utmost caution" as the country reported 9,789 new cases of coronavirus, and as the death toll approaches 115,000.

"In May, depending on the parameters of the contagion and the ability to vaccinate the fragile ... there may be conditions for less restrictive measures," he told La Repubblica daily on Sunday.

In the Naples protest over the weekend, dozens of shopkeepers held up lingerie during a protest against the long shutdown of their businesses.

They were denouncing what they saw as the injustice in the government allowing some shops to remain open -- such as those selling underwear, considered an "essential" item -- while insisting others must close.