ROME, Oct. 18 (Xinhua) -- The Italian government on Sunday evening approved fresh anti-COVID-19 measures as more than 11,000 new infections were reported over the past 24 hours.
"The curve of contagion is worrisome, the numbers are serious, and there is a need to intervene urgently," Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said during a nationally televised press conference.
"We just approved new measures that should allow us to face this new wave of infections, which is severely affecting not only Italy but the whole of Europe," Conte said.
Italy reported 11,705 new infections on Sunday, pushing the current total to 126,237 cases across Italy's 20 regions, according to the latest data published by the Ministry of Health.
Italy has a population of just over 60 million, according to ISTAT national statistics institute.
"We cannot waste time," Conte said. "We must act by fielding all the measures necessary to avert a new generalized lockdown... which would end up severely compromising the entire economic fabric."
Conte spoke in reference to Italy's March to May nationwide lockdown, which brought the country's economy to a halt.
He went on to summarize the new measures, which include giving city mayors the option of shutting down busy streets and squares after 9 p.m. in a bid to prevent public gatherings, a ban on amateur contact sports, and the suspension of all local fairs, festivals, conferences and congresses.
Pubs, bars, restaurants, pizzerias and ice cream shops can be open for business between the hours of 5 a.m. to midnight, as long as customers are seated.
If the customers are standing, then these venues can only serve until 6 p.m., while gaming and betting venues must close at 9 p.m. "Deliveries are allowed at all times, and takeout is allowed until midnight," Conte said.
Schools will stay open, with flexible hours for high schools and universities in order to encourage staggered schedules.
"We are aware that we are imposing economic sacrifices to the businesses that will suffer the negative consequences of these closures, and the government is committed to making up for them," Conte said.
Conte said since the beginning of the pandemic here in late February, Italy has hired 34,000 additional health care workers, more than doubled its ICU beds, and went from zero production to producing 20 million surgical face masks a day.
"We are among the few countries in the world to distribute one free surgical mask per day to every student in 18,000 schools, as well as 7 million masks a day to hospitals, elderly nursing homes, and police forces," Conte pointed out.
"We never let down our guard," the prime minister said. "Now we must act to safeguard health but also the economy."
He reiterated the key importance of the three basic tenets of face masks, hand hygiene and social distancing which every citizen must observe, and added that "we must continue making these sacrifices" until a vaccine becomes available to all.
"The situation is critical," Conte said, "Everyone must do his or her part so that all together we can overcome this difficult moment."
Also on Sunday, the Ministry of Health reported that the northern Lombardy region, whose capital is Milan where the pandemic first emerged in late February, still led among Italy's 20 regions with 2,975 new infections over the past 24 hours.
Lombardy was followed by the northern Piedmont region, the central Lazio region where Rome is located, and the southern Campania region whose capital is Naples, all with over 1,000 new cases compared to Saturday.
At the other end of the spectrum was the southern Molise region with the lowest number of new infections, at 27 cases.
The vast majority of the positive cases, or 118,356, were quarantined at home with no or very light symptoms, while 7,131 people were hospitalized and 750 were in intensive care.
As well, 2,334 patients recovered, bringing total recoveries to 251,461, while 69 patients died, pushing the death toll since the pandemic began to 36,543.
Countries around the world, including China, are investing heavily in the search for a vaccine against the novel coronavirus. Several vaccine candidates were in Phase 3 clinical trials as of Oct. 15, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).