Italy all but put a halt to normal life, paring the economy down to just essential services in a desperate bid to stem the advance of the deadly coronavirus.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered all shops in the country to close except for grocery stores and pharmacies until March 25. Public transportation as well as financial and postal services will continue, but the country’s normally vibrant restaurants, cafes and bars will be shut.
Factories can continue operating, but only with “precautions,” the premier said in a televised address on Wednesday evening, adding that the government — which had extended a lockdown for Lombardy and other northern provinces to all of Italy this week — recommends non-critical units be halted.
“Effects of those measures will be seen in couple of weeks, so cases can still increase in coming days,” he said, thanking Italians for their sacrifices.
With more than 12,000 cases of the disease in the country and deaths jumping 31% to 827 on Wednesday, Conte’s fragile government was under intense pressure to take more drastic measures from governors in the north — the economic engine of the country and the region hardest hit by the virus.
Opposition leader Matteo Salvini of the northern-based League party applauded the move. For days, he had been pushing for further restrictions and for more economic relief as the small entrepreneurs and families that make up his electoral base grapple with the fallout of the pandemic.
Earlier on Wednesday, Conte announced measures worth as much as 25 billion euros ($28.3 billion) to cushion the hit from the epidemic. The cabinet is likely to approve a first package worth about about 12 billion euros by Friday while the rest will be a reserve to pay for further spending.
To handle coordination of the virus response and to speed up production of key medical supplies, Domenico Arcuri — chief executive officer of Invitalia, a state-owned company that promotes investment — will be appointed as emergency czar.
Italy is becoming increasingly isolated, with neighboring countries partially closing the borders. Austria and Slovenia have restricted entry to those who have tested negative to coronavirus while Switzerland sealed off nine minor crossings.
Even before the government’s extraordinary intervention in the economy, companies started taking steps to reduce their activity.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, the country’s biggest manufacturer, will temporarily close Italian factories “where necessary” and lower daily production rates at its Italian plants to enable greater spacing for employees, the carmaker said on Wednesday. Apple Inc. will close all 17 of its retail outlets in Italy, and Burger King will temporarily shut its directly managed restaurants in Italy.
Rinascente department stores and shoemaker Geox SpA temporarily shut their Italian outlets. Fashion icon Giorgio Armani closed shops as well as its hotel and restaurants in Milan.
As a consequence of Conte’s latest emergency decree, all bars and restaurants will close, while food deliveries will be allowed to continue.
That may be of little help for unsettled Italians. Delivery times for food ordered from Esselunga SpA, one of Italy’s largest supermarket chains, are as long as nine days in Milan.
With that background, Conte tried to reassure Italians that no more measures would be coming. He also tried to stem the risks of hoarding, saying there is no need for citizens to rush to buy food, adding that banking will be guaranteed.