South Africa

Italy set to refund Covid-hit business as anger mounts

ROME - Italy will present a package of measures on Tuesday to support businesses hit by new restrictions aimed at reining in a second wave of COVID-19, officials said, at a time of mounting protests against the curbs across the country.

Rome on Sunday ordered bars and restaurants to close by 6 p.m. and shut gyms, cinemas and swimming pools to try to halt a rapid resurgence in the coronavirus that has jacked up daily infection rates to new records.

Demonstrators gathered in several cities during the weekend to protest against the closures and the nightly curfews imposed in some regions, with clashes breaking out in the southern city of Naples and in the capital Rome.

The cabinet was expected to meet on Monday or Tuesday to approve measures worth some 4.5-5 billion euros ($5.3-5.9 billion) for companies affected by the restrictions, including new funds for furlough schemes.

"We had invested a lot of money to comply with security protocols after the first virus wave. Many of us have never reopened and now they hit us again," said Paolo Graziani, owner of the pizzeria Inforno in Ostia, Rome's seaside neighbourhood.

Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri said on Sunday the national tax agency would aim to pay out compensation by mid-November or the end of the year at the latest, but Graziani was sceptical.

"After the lockdown in March and April, we had to pay staff out of our own pockets because of delays in the furlough scheme. Our workers only got the latest payment 15 days ago," he said.

The business aid package will include one-off payments, tax credits for rents, the scrapping of the IMU housing tax payment due in December, and funds for a further 10 weeks of temporary lay-off schemes, government sources said.

"The goal is to publish the decree in the official gazette (on Tuesday), with measures to support 350,000 companies..., all those businesses which will be hit by the new restrictions," Deputy Economy Minister Antonio Misiani said in an interview with RTL 102.5 radio.

The government left most businesses operating, however, and held back from imposing a nationwide curfew, after authorities reported a new daily record of 21,273 COVID-19 cases on Sunday, with 128 deaths.

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