Italy will enter its third nationwide lockdown over the Easter weekend as the country struggles to curb a fresh spike in coronavirus cases.
Non-essential shops will be shuttered across the country between 3 April and 5 April, when Italians will only be allowed to leave their homes for work, health or emergency reasons.
The decree, seen by Reuters, is expected to be signed into law by new Prime Minister Mario Draghi later today.
It is not yet clear how the decree will affect churchgoers in the Catholic country, with Easter Sunday set to take place on 3 April. Plans are expected to follow restrictions over Christmas when people were allowed to go to churches in their neighbourhoods.
Low-risk areas in the country will also be placed under tighter restrictions from Monday under current plans.
Movement between towns in “yellow” regions under the country’s four-colour tier system will be extremely limited, while bars and restaurants will be forced to shutter.
“The spread of the virus is accelerating due to the impact of variants. We agree with the government’s choices,” said Stefano Bonaccini, president of Italy’s conference of regions.
It is the second year running that the country will be under national restrictions over the Easter weekend, after Italy last year became the first European country to lock down in the first wave of the pandemic.
Italy’s first national lockdown was imposed on 9 March last year and was lifted 10 weeks later on 18 May. A second nationwide lockdown came into effect over Christmas.
Ministers have opted to impose more localised restrictions in recent weeks, however it is understood that ministers are concerned about a sharp rise in cases.
Infections in Italy rose 10 per cent over the past seven days compared with the week before, and officials have warned that the situation is deteriorating as new, highly contagious variants gain ground.
The news comes just days after Italy surpassed 100,000 coronavirus deaths, making it the sixth country worldwide to do so after the US, Brazil, Mexico, India, and the UK.
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, has warned that an uptick in cases across the continent should be taken as a signal that the UK is not yet out the woods.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference earlier this week, Whitty said: “I think a lot of people may think that this is all over. I would encourage them to look at what is happening in continental Europe at the moment where a lot of countries are going back into rates going up and having to close things down again having not been in that situation before.”