The government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi has approved strict new curbs for most of Italy, with the country’s most populous regions facing a lockdown as the coronavirus pandemic worsens.
Draghi’s cabinet approved a decree automatically designating regions as high-risk “red zones” if they have more than 250 weekly cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to a statement from his office.
The rules will go into effect Monday and combined with measures already triggered by the spread of the virus, they could effectively send a number of regions, including those surrounding Milan and Rome, into lockdown. That would affect as many as two-thirds of Italians.
The measures bring Italy almost full-circle just over a year after it became the first Western country to go into a lockdown. Infections have reached a three-month high since the more contagious U.K. strain appeared in the country amid a sluggish vaccine roll-out.
Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, is seeking to speed up the vaccination campaign to both counter the pandemic and restart an economy that shrank 8.9% last year. The country registered 25,673 new cases Thursday, compared to 22,409 the previous day.
As many as 14 of Italy’s 20 regions could now fall under the strictest level of controls. Bars and restaurants in these areas will be closed, as will schools and many stores. Citizens will mostly be confined to their homes. In medium-risk “orange areas,” two adults can visit a private home within their municipality once a day until April 2, according to the draft.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza on Friday evening will issue an order establishing how regions’ risk-level ratings will change, based on the latest data and other parameters.
The new restrictions are due to remain in force until April 6. During the Easter holidays, from April 3 to April 5, all of Italy will be classified a red zone, except for a few areas which are at the minimal contagion-risk level, according to the statement.
The premier has faced objections from two parties in his coalition, the anti-migrant League led by Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia, which have pushed to keep businesses open in at least some areas.
Draghi on Friday afternoon will visit a vaccination center at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, where he’ll give a speech on containment efforts. The administration is targeting inoculations by summer for all Italians who want them. So far, 6.1 million vaccine doses have been administered, with only 3% of the population fully vaccinated.