Italy to ramp up spending on coronavirus

Australian Associated Press

An increasingly locked-down Italy will ramp up spending to help the economy cope with the impact of the coronavirus as it deals with more than 10,000 infected people.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte says the government has earmarked 25 billion euros ($A43.4 billion) to tackle the growing crisis.

Last week the cabinet said it would need just 7.5 billion euros but since then the emergency has escalated dramatically and the entire nation is under lockdown, freezing much economic activity in a nation of 62 million people that was already flirting with recession.

Conte told reporters on Wednesday that already tough restrictions on movement might be tightened further after the northern region of Lombardy, centred on Italy's financial capital Milan, asked for all shops to shut and public transport to close.

"We are ready to listen to requests from Lombardy and other regions," Conte told a news conference, adding that caution would be needed before deciding to introduce fresh measures.

"The main objective is to protect citizens' health, but we must take into account that there are other interests at stake. We must be aware that there are civil liberties that are being violated, we must always proceed carefully."

Italy is the worst-affected country in the world after China, with some 631 deaths and 10,149 confirmed cases since the contagion came to light in Lombardy on February 21.

The disease has touched most of the country and the government is worried that if it worsens, the health system in the less-developed south will collapse, causing deaths to spike.

Rome landmarks including the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Spanish Steps have been largely empty, while the Vatican closed St Peter's Square and St Peter's Basilica to tourists.

Police told tourists to return to their hotels.

For at least the next three weeks, anyone travelling in Italy will have to carry a document declaring their reasons.

Outdoor events, including sports fixtures, have been suspended and schools and universities are shut.

The lockdown move has shocked many small businesses, which fear for their future.

"It looks like an apocalypse has struck, there is no one around," Rome restaurant manager Mario Monfreda said.

"It is a total disaster. This will reduce us to nothing ... more people are going to die as a result of the economic crisis that this lockdown is going to cause than the virus itself."

More than 119,000 people have been infected worldwide and more than 4200 have died.

The Vatican's representative to East Timor said that an expected visit by Pope Francis, though never made official, would not happen later this year.

Italy's extra spending means its 2020 budget deficit looks certain to climb above three per cent of national output, the ceiling set by the European Union's rules.

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