The Italian government has approved a controversial ban on inter-regional travel during the Christmas period as the country registered the highest daily coronavirus death toll since the beginning of the pandemic.
Under a new decree due to be signed by prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, on Thursday night, people will be barred from travelling beyond their regions between 20 December and 6 January except for work, health or emergency reasons.
On top of that, they won’t be allowed to leave their towns on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.
The tough rules, which will run alongside a national curfew and other restrictions already in place, are intended to avert a third coronavirus wave.
Italy recorded a record 993 Covid-19 deaths on Thursday, bringing the total since February to 58,038. Thursday’s tally eclipsed the 969 peak reached on 27 March, when the country was in complete lockdown.
There were 23,255 new confirmed infections, up from 20,709 on Wednesday. The infection curve has been showing signs of flattening over the last week, while the number of hospital admissions, including into intensive care, has been declining.
The government is trying to avoid the mistakes made after the spring lockdown was lifted and returning holidaymakers were partly blamed for reviving infections.
“If we drop our guard now, the third wave is just around the corner,” health minister Roberto Speranza told parliament on Wednesday.
The government also resisted pressure from leaders of Alpine regions and opted to keep ski resorts closed until 7 January, while midnight mass on Christmas Eve will have to be brought forward so that worshippers can make it home before the 10pm curfew.
The debate in parliament over the measures was heated, with Italia Viva, the centrist party led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi which is part of the ruling majority, calling for softer restrictions.
The measures also infuriated regional governors, who said in a joint statement earlier on Thursday that they had not been consulted and that “the lack of discussion has made it impossible to balance the curbs with the needs of families”.
“Reading an unexpected decree that bans movements between towns in the same region on 25 and 26 December and 1 January … is crazy,” said Attilio Fontana, president of the northern Lombardy region. Lombardy is the region worst hit by the pandemic, recording 22,626 of the total deaths.
Matteo Salvini, leader of the League, the far-right opposition party, said: “These families must remain divided even at Christmas. This is yet more proof that the government does not know Italy.”
Conte is due to address the nation at 8.15pm CET and outline the measures, which will be in force from Friday. Other measures are expected to include the obligation, between 10 and 21 December, for those returning to Italy from EU countries to undertake a coronavirus test before travelling and present the negative result on arrival. Those travelling in from non-Schengen countries must quarantine for 14 days. Then from 21 December until 6 January all travellers arriving in Italy must undertake a two-week quarantine.