Shoppers flood Italian cities as government debates Christmas Covid-19 curbs

People go about Via dei Condotti in central Rome for their Christmas shopping on Dec 13, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

MILAN (REUTERS) - Crowds flooded the streets of several Italian cities on Sunday (Dec 13), forcing police to close off popular sites such as Rome's Trevi fountain, while the government debated which restrictions to enforce over the Christmas holiday period.

Italy on Saturday overtook Britain as the European nation with the highest death toll with a total of 64,520 Covid-19 fatalities.

Almost 1 in 30 Italians have been infected since February, when Italy became the first Western country hit by the pandemic.

The easing of some restrictions Rome had imposed last month to fight a resurgence of the coronavirus brought crowds of shoppers to many sun-bathed city centres on Sunday, heightening concerns about a possible spike in infections in January.

Germany will close most shops from Wednesday until at least Jan 10, after reporting 321 Covid-19 deaths and 20,200 new cases on Sunday.

"All the main information websites today are full of pictures of city centres awash with unacceptable large gatherings," Domenico Arcuri, Italy's special commissioner for the healthcare emergency, told TV programme's Che Tempo Che Fa.

"We don't want to see those again ... we must avoid the third wave at all costs. It would be really complicated to launch the vaccination campaign amid a resurgence in cases." Arcuri said Italy hoped to kick off the campaign between Jan 12 and 15.

At an emergency meeting on Sunday, the government discussed whether to loosen a ban that currently prevents people from leaving their hometown on Christmas day, allowing an exception for small towns.

Vincenzo De Luca, governor of Naples' badly hit Campania region, said he would fight such a step.

"If the government allows free movement of people for towns with less than 5,000 inhabitants we'll need to open a ward for democratic madness at the prime minister's residence," he told Che Tempo Che Fa.

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