Italians told to celebrate Christmas at home to fight virus

International News

People walk past a shop window adorned with Christmas decorations, in Rome Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Still, the large number of daily new COVID-19 cases is worrying, Italian health experts said, especially with the approach of year-end holidays, which could prompt people to ignore social distancing rules and gather in large numbers to celebrate. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

MILAN (AP) — Italy recorded a pandemic-high daily death toll Thursday, providing a grim backdrop for Premier Giuseppe Conte’s cheerless announcement of restrictions for the Christmas holidays that will make it difficult for extended families to celebrate together as is customary.

Italiasn like to say, “Christmas with family, Easter with whomever you please,’’ underlining the sacrosanct notion of spending Christmas and St. Stefano’s feast day on Dec. 26 with as much far-flung family as possible. Even regional governors, including Luca Zaia of Veneto and Attilio Fontana of Lombardy, pushed vainly for more flexibility.

Conte stood firm. While Italy has managed to slow the fall resurgence with a month of tiered restrictions, without resorting to last spring’s 10-week total lockdown, the death toll remains stubbornly high. A total of 993 people died in the previous 24 hours, officials reported Thursday, eclipsing the previous high of 969 hit March 27 as Italy struggled to contain the first deadly peak.

Health experts and policy makers alike remain concerned that a Christmas “as usual” would bring a third surge to Italy, the first Western country to confirm a locally spread case of COVID-19 on Feb. 21. Italy’s death toll stands at 58,038, second in Europe to Britain, while 1.6 million Italians have been infected — one out of every 35 residents.

“There is still a long way to go out of the pandemic,’’ Conte said. “We must avoid the risk of a third wave that could arrive as early as January. It could be just as violent as the first and the second.”

New measures that take effect Friday include a ban on traveling outside home regions from Dec. 21 through Jan. 6, even to second homes. No ski lifts can operate until Jan. 7, after the Epiphany holiday marking the end of the school break. No one is permitted to leave their towns or cities of residence on Dec. 25-26 and Jan. 1.

Despite threats otherwise, the government is allowing hotels to stay open. But anyone planning to celebrate New Year’s Eve at a hotel will have to count on room service: Parties are prohitibed.

Conte noted that the most painful sacrifice — and hardest to control — will be the traditional celebratory lunches and dinners.

“We cannot enter in houses and set strict limits,’’ Conte said. But he asked that everyone respect a “strong recommendation” not to invite anyone over, and limit any festivities to members of the same household.

Just so no one can label the government a Christmas Grinch, Conte said that stores can stay open until 9 p.m. starting Friday. “We don’t want to limit shopping, and the tradition of exchanging gifts.” Still, shopping malls will be closed on weekends, except for supermarkets, pharmacies and newsstands.

“It will be a Christmas different than all the others — not less authentic,’’ Conte said.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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