ROME (Reuters) - Italy's crime rate slumped 66.6% in March, thanks to a government lockdown introduced to halt the coronavirus, the interior ministry said on Wednesday.
However, the ministry warned that the easing of restrictions, which are due to be lifted from May 4, could create space for organised crime gangs, as mobsters try to take advantage of companies battling to stay afloat.
Some 68,069 crimes were registered across the country last month against 203,723 in March 2019.
The ministry did not provide details, noting only that domestic violence fell 37.4%, a smaller drop than the overall crime rate, while robberies at pharmacies, one of the few businesses allowed to stay open, dropped 28.2%.
By contrast, reports of criminal loan-sharking rose 9.1%, underscoring concern that struggling firms and families would have to turn to illegal financing networks to make ends meet.
Italy introduced some of the toughest curbs on daily life in the world last month as it struggled to contain a burgeoning coronavirus outbreak, shuttering schools and companies across the nation and telling people to stay home.
The country has registered almost 27,700 deaths to date - the second highest tally in the world after the United States.
Prosecutors told Reuters earlier this month that Italy's mafia clans were taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to buy favour with poor families facing financial ruin.
The Interior Ministry warned in its statement that the mafia would look to tap recovery funds that will be offered by the government and European Union to revive the economy, which is expected to suffer its worst recession since World War Two.
"This may favour corruption and illicit relations between entrepreneurs, public officials and criminal organisations," it said. The ministry added it had ordered heightened police monitoring to try to prevent mafia infiltration.
It said particular attention would be paid to "the agro-food chain, health infrastructure, the supply of medical equipment, the hotel tourism sector, catering and the retail distribution sectors of small and medium-sized companies".
(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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