Coronavirus: Italy’s Matteo Salvini occupies parliament in lockdown protest

Right-wing politicians in Italy demand a clear timetable to end the nationwide lockdown

epa08379742 The leader of Lega party, Matteo Salvini wears a protective mask during an interview in piazza Montecitorio next to the Chamber of Deputies, Rome, Italy, 23 April 2020. Countries around the world are taking increased measures to stem the widespread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus which causes the COVID-19 disease.  EPA/RICCARDO ANTIMIANI

Italy’s right-wing figurehead Matteo Salvini has ended a two-day occupation of the country’s parliament in a protest against the government’s ongoing lockdown.

Mr Salvini and dozens of lawmakers from Italy’s upper and lower houses of parliament staged the protest vowing they would celebrate the country’s May 1 holiday in their respective chambers.

The Lega Party MPs launched the sit-in to protest against the country’s continued lockdown and delays in financial aid promised as part of the government’s coronavirus bailout scheme.

His rivals dismissed the move as a stunt and a desperate ploy by the former deputy prime minister to stay relevant in a crisis which has, at least for the moment, side-lined his politics.

The 74 parliamentarians, wearing masks and gloves and following social distancing rules in the parliament, said they were demanding answers for Italians who “don’t know when they can reopen, go back to work or when their children can return to school”.

After initially saying they would remain in the parliament until a timetable for the restoration of “full liberties” had been delivered, the far-right politicians were forced into an awkward climb down.

Following Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s promises of tentative plans for a “phase two” to end Italy’s eight-week lockdown on May 1, the right-wing parliamentarians agreed to suspend their protests.

However, according Italy’s ANSA news agency, they have vowed to return if “concrete facts” from the government are not forthcoming.

Italy will allow factories and building sites to re-open from May 4 before allowing more businesses to open in following weeks as it prepares a staged end to Europe’s longest coronavirus lockdown.

More than two months after the first case of Covid-19 appeared in a small town outside Milan, Italy is looking ahead to a second phase of the crisis in which it will attempt to restart the economy without triggering a new wave of the disease.

While the country has passed through the worst of the initial outbreak, it remains the second worst nation in the world with 27,967 deaths and over 200,000 cases.

Manufacturers, construction companies and some wholesalers will be allowed to reopen from May 4, followed by retailers two weeks later, while restaurants and bars will be allowed to reopen fully from the beginning of June although takeaway business will be possibly earlier.