Italy metes out stiff fines for lockdown offenders as COVID-19 cases close to 70,000

The coronavirus pandemic has claimed 6,820 lives in locked-down Italy by Tuesday with the cumulative number of cases reaching 69,176, according to new data released by the Civil Protection Department.

Speaking at a televised press conference, Civil Protection Department Chief Angelo Borrelli said Italy reported 5,249 new cases of coronavirus and 743 new deaths on Tuesday and that 54,030 people are currently positive for the coronavirus, one month after the pandemic broke out in northern Italy on Feb. 21.

Of those infected, 28,697 are in isolation at home, 21,937 are hospitalized with symptoms, and 3,396 are in intensive care.

Meanwhile, a total of 8,326 patients have recovered, said Borrelli who is also the national commissioner in charge of the coronavirus emergency.

The numbers are up from an official tally on Monday evening of 50,418 active infections, 6,077 deaths, and 7,432 recoveries.

Borrelli also confirmed that former Civil Protection Department chief Guido Bertolaso has tested positive for the virus.

In a televised press conference earlier on Tuesday, Extraordinary Commissioner for the Coronavirus Emergency, Domenico Arcuri, announced that Italian fashion companies have agreed to produce “50 million face masks per month”.

“These will cover half of our requirement of over 90 million (masks) per month,” said Arcuri, who is also the CEO of Invitalia, a national business incentives agency owned by the Ministry of Economy.

Arcuri added that Invitalia is providing a 50-million-euro package of incentives “for businesses wishing to convert their facilities to the production of masks.”

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte named Arcuri an additional national commissioner on coronavirus emergency, effective March 18.

Arcuri is in charge of ramping up production and distribution of medical supplies, bolstering the national health care system, and managing economic support for families, workers, and businesses affected by the coronavirus emergency.

The commissioner went on to explain that since the start of the emergency, intensive care hospital beds across Italy have increased by 64 percent — from 5,343 to 8,370 — while beds in pneumology and infectious diseases hospital wards have quadrupled, from 6,625 to 26,169.

Arcuri went on to call on Italians to stay home. “We are all aware that the government’s (lockdown) measures are difficult (and) unusual,” he said.

“The vast majority of Italians is respecting them. We implore all Italians to respect them. We must stop this emergency from spreading to regions where its reach has so far been contained,” Arcuri said.

Conte said on Tuesday that his government has approved a new decree introducing fines of 400 to 3,000 euros (430-3,228 U.S. dollars) for people caught violating the government’s anti-coronavirus lockdown rules.

Under the lockdown rules, people are not allowed to leave their homes except for buying food, going to the pharmacy, walking their dogs, or going to work if they are employed in key sectors such as health care or food production.

People are also not allowed to travel between municipalities.

Conte added that the new decree gives regional governors the power to impose stiffer lockdown rules if needed.

The prime minister also denied media rumours that the national lockdown would be prolonged to July 31, and not to April 3 as per the current decree.

Italy on Jan. 31 declared a six-month national state of emergency due to the coronavirus epidemic.

Conte clarified that the state of emergency therefore ends on July 31, while the lockdown measure expires on April 3.

Also on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio wrote on Facebook that a flight that departed from China has landed at Malpensa (Milan airport) with medical supplies.

“We won’t stop until all the necessary equipment reaches Italy,” the minister wrote.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella also called on Italians to come together to fight the virus as they once did to rebuild Italy after World War II.