ROME • Italy has banned travel within the country in yet another attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, with data showing a further 651 people had died from the disease on Sunday, lifting the number of fatalities to 5,476.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced late on Saturday that he would freeze all non-essential business activity after previous measures failed to restrain the contagion, which emerged a month ago in the wealthy north before slowly advancing southwards.
Full details of Mr Conte’s order have yet to be released, but anticipating the new block, the interior and health ministries said people had to stay where they were, unless urgent business or health reasons forced them to move to another town or region.
Italy has registered more deaths than any other country in the world, while the number of confirmed cases is second only to China, with the tally rising by 5,560 to 59,138 on Sunday, the Civil Protection Agency said.
However, offering a ray of hope, the latest figures represented an improvement on Saturday, when the death toll rose by 793 and new cases increased by 6,557.
“We don’t want to get over-enthusiastic or overestimate a trend, but compared to yesterday, there is a slight drop in the figures,” said Mr Franco Locatelli, the head of Italy’s top health council, which advises the government.
“We must not lower our guard, we must continue with the measures taken and respect the government’s instructions,” he told a news conference.
Regional leaders have been pushing Mr Conte for days to tighten the screws as infections have spiralled, but some business leaders and financiers expressed alarm at his decision to shut down more companies.
“The closure of production activity is devastating. Our companies will lose market share and won’t be able to reopen for lack of liquidity,” Mr Alberto Forchielli, head of the Mandarin Capital Partners private equity fund, wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “This is the end of Italy’s industrial system.”
Among the companies that said they were halting production in Italy were the world’s largest eyewear company, Luxottica.
However, union leaders accused Mr Conte of not going far enough with his closure order, noting that dozens of sectors had won exemptions.
They threatened to call a general strike if they thought too many workers were exposed to health risks.
In a video posted late on Saturday night on Facebook, Mr Conte said Italy was facing its most serious crisis since World War II, with the health system in the wealthy north at breaking point and almost every intensive care bed now filled.