ROME: Italy and Spain, the two European countries worst-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, are looking to ease restrictions in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus, leaders of the two countries have said.

Italy may start gradually lifting some restrictions by the end of April, provided the spread of the disease continues to slow, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told the BBC on Thursday (Apr 9).

“We need to pick sectors that can restart their activity. If scientists confirm it, we might begin to relax some measures already by the end of this month,” Conte told the British broadcaster.

READ: Football – Italy begins drawing up medical guidelines for Serie A restart amid COVID-19 lockdown

Conte warned, however, that Italy could not lower its guard and restrictions would only be eased gradually.

There were 542 deaths from COVID-19 in Italy on Wednesday, lower than the 604 the day before, taking the total death toll to 17,669. There were 3,693 people in intensive care, down from 3,792 on Tuesday – the fifth daily decline in a row.

The decline has raised hopes the virus is on the retreat thanks to a nationwide lockdown, though the number of new cases rose 3,836, compared with 3,039 on Tuesday, to reach 139,422, the third highest globally behind the United States and Spain.

Italy imposed the nationwide lockdown on Mar 9. Two weeks later, Conte announced that non-essential businesses, including car, clothing and furniture manufacturing, would have to close.

READ: Italy’s daily coronavirus death toll falls, but new cases accelerate

READ: Italy’s ‘youngest patient’ recovers from COVID-19: Reports

Businesses in the country’s northern industrial heartland have been urging the government to let them reopen factories to prevent an economic catastrophe, even though the north is the area worst hit by the coronavirus.

Branches of employers lobby group Confindustria representing the northern regions of Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna, which account for 45 per cent of Italy’s economic output, called on the government on Wednesday to set out a “roadmap” for a return to work.

“UNDER CONTROL”

Spain is close to the beginning of a decline in the coronavirus epidemic, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Thursday, urging all political parties to join a pact for national economic revival after the health crisis.

“The fire starts to come under control … This war against the virus will be a total victory,” he told a near-empty parliament as more than 300 lawmakers participated remotely due to lockdown regulations.

READ: Spain’s coronavirus deaths pass 14,500, but real toll may be bigger

They were to vote on a two-week extension of Spain’s state of emergency, which would keep people at home until Apr 26.

The government’s proposed new economic deal is inspired by the Pacts of Moncloa, signed in 1977 after the death of dictator Francisco Franco to transform the state-run economy into a market economy for newly-democratic Spain.

It seeks to unite the splintered political landscape, and also encompass unions, companies and regions, behind a common economic reconstruction policy.

“I propose a great pact for the economic and social reconstruction of Spain, for all the political forces who want to lend their shoulder to take part,” said Sanchez, a Socialist who leads a leftist coalition government after a series of inconclusive elections.

Spain’s measures to curb the COVID-19 disease – some of the toughest in Europe – have helped save many lives and slashed the proportional daily increase in new infections to 4 per cent from 22 per cent, Sanchez also told parliament .

Latest health ministry data showed on Wednesday total deaths from the epidemic rising by 757 to 14,555 – the world’s third-highest after Italy and the United States. Overall, Spain’s cases rose to 146,690 from 140,510 on Tuesday.

Despite the extension of the lockdown, the government plans to ease restrictions for companies after shutting down all non-essential businesses nearly two weeks ago.

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