Italy is preparing to extend its lockdown until early May in order to avoid a second wave of coronavirus cases.
Prime minister Giuseppe Conte is expected to extend most of the country’s stringent quarantine measures until May 3, Italian media says.
The fact that Italy is likely to stay in lockdown until May suggests that Britain could remain shut down for longer than that.
Italy’s figures have typically been around two weeks ahead of those in the UK, and the lockdown was imposed a fortnight earlier. The current UK figure of 65,077 cases is comparable to Italy’s March 24 tally of 69,176.
This graph shows the rising number of virus cases in Italy and the UK. The Italian figures have generally been around two weeks ahead of those in Britain
Medical workers in Campania San Giuliano Hospital ASL Napoli carrying out swabs. There have been well over 100,000 reported COVID-19 cases in Italy and more than 18,000 related deaths, but officials are confident the peak of new cases has passed
Conte first imposed the nationwide lockdown on March 9, initially until April 3. The measures have already been extended once until April 13.
‘We do not have the conditions to restart things now,’ Conte reportedly told union and business leaders during a private video-conference on Thursday.
Italy’s reported decision to extend the lockdown followed days of consultations with government scientists and regional leaders.
If Italy’s outbreak remains around two weeks ahead of Britain’s, the UK can expect to remain in lockdown until at least mid-May if it adopts similar policies.
UK officials have played down talk of relaxing the measures and warned people not to lower their guard over Easter.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, warned that the number of deaths would continue to rise for a ‘few weeks’.
Dominic Raab, who has been deputising for the sick Boris Johnson, said the UK has ‘not yet reached the peak of the virus’.
‘It’s still too early to lift the measures that we put in place,’ he said at yesterday’s Number 10 press conference. ‘We must stick to the plan and we must continue to be guided by the science.’
Mr Johnson promised a review of the measures after three weeks, which is next week. Mr Raab said the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) would be looking at the evidence but it would not be possible to say any more until the end of next week.
This graph shows the daily number of coronavirus deaths in Italy, which has fallen from a peak of 919 on March 27
This chart shows the daily number of cases, which have ticked up again in recent days
Italy’s main newspapers said Conte will publish a decree either today or tomorrow banning people from taking walks or lounging in parks until May 3.
The Italian death toll has officially reached 18,279 since the end of February, the highest in the world.
But daily rises in new infections have slowed dramatically and Italy is gradually approaching a point when the number of people officially suffering from COVID-19 might begin to drop.
The growth in new cases has been around 2-3 per cent in the last few days, far below the regular 20-25 per cent at the peak of the crisis.
The Corriere della Serra newspaper said Conte will bow to growing pressure and allow a tiny number of businesses to reopen when the existing restrictions expire on April 13.
These reportedly include book and stationery stores as well as lumber companies and factories that make agricultural machinery.
The government and scientists reportedly view these as businesses with the least amount of human interaction.
It will represent ‘a small, cautious, symbolic opening,’ the Corriere della Serra wrote.
A doctor from the Bassini Hospital making a test tube for a COVID-19 test swab in Milan yesterday
Only grocery stores and pharmacies have been allowed to operate since a general lockdown began at the peak of the Mediterranean country’s outbreak on March 12.
A study released by the Confcooperative small business lobby said the closures have left more half of Italy’s 1.3 million construction workers and over a third of the 11.4 million services sector employees furloughed.
Government scientists have also been pushing for the ban on public gatherings to be extended as long as possible as a safety precaution.
But Conte was now reportedly ready to let Italians freely leave their houses for the first time time in nearly two months on May 4.
‘If scientists confirm it, we might begin to relax some measures already by the end of this month,’ he told the BBC on Thursday.