ROME (Reuters) – The Italian government will likely impose new restrictions on the country in the coming week to try to beat back rising numbers of coronavirus cases, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Sunday.
The cabinet is due to meet on Tuesday to decide how to respond to an increase in infections, with southern Italian regions for the first time looking vulnerable to the disease.
“The battle isn’t over. We don’t have the numbers seen in other European countries … but we are in a phase of significant growth and I hope the country finds a spirit of unity,” Speranza told state broadcaster RAI.
The measures under review include making the wearing of masks obligatory outdoors across the whole country and re-introducing curbs on social gatherings.
“Masks are fundamental. The more we can get them used by Italians the better it will be,” said Speranza. Mask-wearing is currently compulsory in just five of Italy’s 20 regions, mainly in the south.
Italy registered 2,844 new cases on Saturday, the highest number since the end of April, when the country was under a nationwide lockdown. Officials are alarmed by flare-ups in the south, with the region of Campania, centred on Naples, seeing more than 400 new infections a day for the first time.
To help keep control and ensure social distancing rules are respected, the interior ministry said on Saturday that soldiers might be deployed alongside police in some hotspots.
However, Speranza said the most important thing was for people to take direct responsibility for their actions.
“We can’t have the police checking every single person,” he said, adding that the government was working “night and day” to avoid a return to a full lockdown.
“A generalised lockdown would have a cultural, economic and social cost the country cannot afford,” he said.
Italy was the first country in Europe to be slammed by COVID-19 and has the sixth highest death toll in the world, with almost 36,000 people dying since the outbreak flared in February. As of Saturday, it had registered 322,751 cases.
(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; editing by Barbara Lewis)