ROME (Reuters) – Italy is likely to extend a state of emergency to help keep the coronavirus crisis under control, a senior official said on Tuesday as the government looks to avoid the surge in new cases hitting other European countries.
The state of emergency, which is due to expire in mid-October, gives greater powers to both regional and central government, making it easier for officials to bypass the bureaucracy that smothers much decision-making in Italy.
“I believe the government will need to ask for a further extension,” Health Undersecretary Sandra Zampa told state broadcaster RAI. “The state of emergency allows the government to cut through red tape quickly if needed.”
Italy was the first country in Europe to be slammed by COVID-19 and has the highest death toll on the continent, with 35,851 dying since the outbreak flared in February.
Thanks to one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, Italy managed to get the contagion under control by the summer. However, cases have picked up over the past month and an average 1,694 new infections were reported daily in the last seven days.
That is still far fewer than elsewhere in Europe, including France, which is reporting an average 10,199 new cases daily, and Spain, which is seeing 10,920, according to Reuters data.
Earlier this week the World Health Organization posted a video praising Italy’s “strong and effective response” to the pandemic. Despite the easing of the crisis, many Italians are still taking great care, such as regularly wearing masks outside even though it is not compulsory.
Scientists say the next three weeks will be crucial to gauge the circulation of the virus and determine whether Italy will be spared a major second wave.
“If we get through the next three weeks, we can probably make it,” Andrea Crisanti, a professor of microbiology at the university of Padua, told Reuters.
The initial state of emergency was extended at the end of July despite protests from opposition parties, which accused Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of trying to keep too much power in his own hands and side-stepping parliament.
(Additional reporting by Giuseppe Fonte; Editing by Crispian Balmer/Mark Heinrich)