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Italy Shuts Down Shops, Restaurants After Virus Toll Rises

Jerrold Colten, Marco Bertacche and Tommaso Ebhardt
Italy Shuts Down Shops, Restaurants After Virus Toll Rises

(Bloomberg) -- Italy on Thursday moved to virtually bring a halt to normal life, paring the economy down to just essential services in a desperate bid to stem the advance of the deadly coronavirus.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered all shops in the country to close except for grocery stores, pharmacies and few others until March 25. The total number of fatalities from the virus has risen to 1,016 from 827, and total cases now stand at 15,113, up from 12,462, civil protection officials said.

Public transportation as well as financial and postal services will continue, but the country’s normally vibrant restaurants, cafes and bars will be shut. UniCredit SpA and Intesa Sanpaoloa SpA, the country’s biggest banks, said on Thursday that only some branches will remain open.

Factories can continue operating, but only with “precautions,” the premier said in a televised address Wednesday. The government -- which extended a lockdown for Lombardy and other northern provinces to all of Italy this week -- also recommends non-critical facilities be closed. CNH Industrial NV said it will shut down its Italian operations.

“Effects of those measures will be seen in couple of weeks, so cases can still increase in coming days,” Conte said.

Conte’s fragile government is under intense pressure to take more drastic measures from governors in the north -- the economic engine of the country and the region hardest hit by the virus.

Restaurants Closed

The benchmark FTSEMIB Index dropped 17%, led by shares of Enel SpA, which lost 19.9%.

As a consequence of Conte’s latest emergency decree, all bars and restaurants are shutting their doors, while food deliveries will be allowed to continue.

That may be of little help for unsettled Italians. Delivery times for food ordered from Esselunga SpA, one of Italy’s largest supermarket chains, are as long as nine days in Milan.

Conte has tried to reassure Italians that no more measures would be coming. He also tried to stem the risks of hoarding, saying there is no need for citizens to rush to buy food, adding that banking will be guaranteed.

About 70% of Italians supported the measures taken by the government, according to a SWG poll on March 10. Most said they were expecting even more restrictive actions, before the latest steps were approved.

Still, online shopping will be available without restrictions and Italians can also continue buying newspapers at their kiosks and tobacconists. Also electronic shops and gas stations are among the businesses that will remain open, while barber shops and hairdressers will shut down, according to the decree posted on the government’s website.

On the corporate side, most company annual meetings will be postponed or may be held via video calls, Corriere della Sera reported. Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA was scheduled to present its board membership proposal on Thursday, the first since CEO Marco Morelli said he won’t seek to extend his term.

Economic Relief

Opposition leader Matteo Salvini of the northern-based League party applauded the move. For days, he had been pushing for further restrictions and for more economic relief as the small entrepreneurs and families that make up his electoral base grapple with the fallout of the pandemic.

To handle coordination of the virus response and to speed up production of key medical supplies, Domenico Arcuri -- chief executive officer of Invitalia, a state-owned company that promotes investment -- was appointed as emergency czar.

Italy is becoming increasingly isolated, with neighboring countries partially closing the borders. Austria and Slovenia have restricted entry to those who have tested negative to coronavirus while Switzerland sealed off nine minor crossings.

Conte and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agree that tackling the spread of coronavirus requires Europe-wide coordination, the Italian government said in a statement commenting on a phone call between the two leaders. All necessary measures must be taken, the government said.

(Updates with latest figures in fifth paragraph, Conte and Merkel in last.)

--With assistance from Ross Larsen.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jerrold Colten in Milan at jcolten@bloomberg.net;Marco Bertacche in Milan at mbertacche@bloomberg.net;Tommaso Ebhardt in Milan at tebhardt@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net, Benedikt Kammel

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