Lombardy coronavirus deaths near 6,000 as Italy mulls extending lockdown

MILAN (Reuters) – Italy’s Lombardy region, which has borne the worst of the coronavirus contagion, recorded 542 new deaths on Saturday as the national government was said to be mulling plans to extend a country-wide lockdown to mid-April.

The number of confirmed deaths in Lombardy, an industrial and financial powerhouse in the north, rose to 5,944, according to a source familiar with the figures.

The number of cases in the region increased by some 2,117 to roughly 39,415, the source said.

The nationwide tally is due to be released later on Saturday. On Friday, the national death toll stood at 9,134, the highest in the world.

Italy, the first Western country to introduce severe restrictions on movement after uncovering the outbreak five weeks ago, has since increasingly tightened them. It has banned all non-essential activities until April 3.

According to the Corriere della Sera newspaper, the government is considering extending the lockdown of the whole country by two weeks to April 18 while loosening some curbs on industrial activity.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has urged the European Union to launch a “recovery bond” to help fund the response to the coronavirus outbreak, saying failure to tackle the emergency would be a “tragic mistake” for the bloc.

In an interview with Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore on Saturday, Conte said a common debt instrument was needed to spearhead a European recovery and reinvestment plan to support the economy of the whole area.

Education Minister Lucia Azzolina has already said the closure of schools and universities, which began on March 5, would have to be extended past April 3.

Italy’s minister for southern regions expressed concerns about potential social tensions and civil unrest in poorer areas if, as expected, the epidemic moves south.

“I am afraid that the worries that are affecting large sections of the population over health, income and the future, with the continuation of the crisis, will turn into anger and hatred,” Minister Giuseppe Provenzano told La Repubblica newspaper on Saturday.

Michele Emiliano, governor of the southern Puglia region, downplayed played fears of civil unrest in the south but said the lockdown may have to be extended until mid-May.

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