Italy's Draghi prepares a video message as new COVID-19 cases spike

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister designate Draghi and his new government are sworn-in, in Rome

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi will deliver on Monday his first public speech since he took office last month, an official at his office said, as the country faces mounting coronavirus cases and possible new restrictions.

It was not clear if Draghi would suggest further curbs to counter the spread of new, highly contagious variants. He is preparing a video address to mark Monday's International Women's Day and is expected to stress the need for solidarity with those suffering in the pandemic.

Draghi, who took office on Feb. 13, has not spoken publicly since Feb. 17 when he addressed parliament.

Italy has established a four-tier colour-coded system (white, yellow, orange and red) with curbs calibrated according to the infection levels and revised every week.

Italian newspapers reported on Sunday that the government is now considering automatically turning regions into red zones if the threshold of 250 weekly virus cases per 100,000 inhabitants is breached.

Possible measures from mid-March include making the entire country a red zone for three or four weeks, La Repubblica said.

"The second wave never stopped, we’re seeing a very strong pickup due to the variants, which is leading us to take measures that are ever-more restrictive," Health Minister Roberto Speranza told Il Corriere della Sera in an interview on Sunday.

Asked whether the government would introduce a national lockdown at least at weekends, and a stricter curfew, he said: "It’s clear that we will monitor the epidemiological situation, adapting the measures in the light of the variants."

Italy reported 207 coronavirus-related deaths on Saturday and 20,765 new infections. The country has registered 99,785 deaths linked to COVID-19, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain.

The Italian health ministry will extend next week the use of Astrazeneca's COVID-19 vaccine to people over the age of 65 and expects to inoculate half of the country's 60 million population by end-June, Speranza said in a separate interview with state-owned television RAI on Sunday.

(Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Frances Kerry and Catherine Evans)