Italy on Thursday began a new phase in its coronavirus fight with the closure of non-essential businesses, except pharmacies and grocery stores, aimed at containing the outbreak that has infected 12,462 people and killed 827 in the country.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Wednesday night called for "another step" to stem the spread of the virus, reports Efe news. On Monday, Conte extended the lockdown measures already in place in the north of the country to nationwide, including movement restrictions and the closure of public spaces.
On Wednesday he declared further measures, as requested by the most-affected northern region of Lombardy, which will be in force until March 25. From Thursday, all non-essential retail and commercial activity has been suspended, with the opening of food stores given the go-ahead as long as they allow the orderly entry of people that facilitate customers being able to keep one meter away from each other.
Other businesses, including factories and agriculture, the public sector and transport, as well as banks remained open, as long as they could guarantee their security measures.
Restaurants, bars, ice cream parlours, patisseries, hairdressers and barbershops were closed, joining other spaces shuttered in recent days such as cinemas, theatres, museums, churches, schools and universities.
Conte asked the companies remaining open to utilize teleworking as much as possible, encourage paid leave for employees, the disinfection of their facilities and the suspension of non-essential company activity.
Earlier Wednesday, Conte announced an increased emergency stimulus package worth up to 35 billion euros ($28 billion) to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, since declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
In a statement, the Italian government said the emergency funds would be allocated to the healthcare system, the civil protection department, and businesses and families affected by the virus.
Italy's health services is under pressure to cope with the rising numbers of cases.
In about three weeks, the coronavirus outbreak in the country has already left 827 dead and the number of cases totals 12,462, which includes those cured, sick and dead, according to official data.
As of Thursday, the overall coronavirus death toll in China, the epicentre of the outbreak, was 3,169, with a total of 80,793 cases.