Italy closes schools in worst-hit coronavirus areas

Italian government takes step after concerns about new, highly contagious variants

epa09034144 Health personnel carry out vaccination operations to school personnel during the inauguration of the new hub for vaccination against COVID-19, set up by the Local Health Company Asl Roma 2 at the 'La Nuvola' congress center, in Rome, Italy, 24 February 2021.  EPA/ANGELO CARCONI
Powered by automated translation

Italy's government on Tuesday ordered the closure of all schools in areas worst hit by Covid-19, and extended curbs on businesses and movement until early April amid worries over new, highly contagious variants.

Italy is reporting about 15,000 new coronavirus cases a day, with the trend steadily rising and government advisers warning the health system is under growing strain.

A colour-coded system that allows for measures to be altered according to infection levels in Italy's 20 regions will remain in force, with assessments every week.

Under the decree signed by Prime Minister Mario Draghi and effective from March 6, primary school classes in red zones, which have the toughest restrictions, will be held online.

Distance learning was already mandatory for high school pupils in these areas.

"The English variant, which is prevalent, is particularly able to penetrate among the youngest age groups," Health Minister Roberto Speranza said.

The new rules will be in place until April 6.

Mr Draghi, who took office last month, was not at the briefing, in a break with the policy of his predecessor Giuseppe Conte, who always explained new government curbs in person.

Two southern regions, Basilicata and Molise, are red zones, meaning restaurants, bars and most shops are closed and people can leave their homes only for work, health or emergency reasons.

Nine regions are classified as orange, eight as yellow and one, the island of Sardinia, as white, with only minimal restrictions.

Opening hours for bars and restaurants are limited across the nation and a nightly curfew is still in place from 10pm everywhere except Sardinia.

A ban on ski resorts, imposed before Christmas, has been extended until April, dashing the last hopes of operators to re-open their lifts.

Italy's official Covid-19 death toll is 98,288, the second highest in Europe after Britain and seventh highest worldwide, with several hundred deaths recorded every day.

A ban on non-essential travel between the regions had already been extended until March 27.

The government offered some hope for lockdown-weary Italians, saying cinemas and theatres will be able to reopen from the end of March in low-risk yellow zones.