The Italian government has approved a ban on inter-regional travel during the Christmas period as the country registered the highest daily coronavirus death toll of the pandemic.
Under a new decree due to be signed by the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, on Thursday night, people will be barred from travelling beyond their regions between 20 December and 6 January except for work, health or emergency reasons.
On top of that, they will not be allowed to leave their towns on Christmas Day, Boxing Day or New Year’s Day.
The tough rules, which will run alongside a national curfew and other restrictions already in place, are intended to avert a third coronavirus wave.
Italy recorded 993 Covid-19 deaths on Thursday, bringing the total since February to 58,038. Thursday’s tally eclipsed the 969 peak reached on 27 March, when the country was in full lockdown.
There were 23,255 new confirmed infections, up from 20,709 on Wednesday. The infection curve has been showing signs of flattening over the last week, while the number of hospital admissions, including into intensive care, has been declining.
The government is trying to avoid the mistakes made after the spring lockdown was lifted and returning holidaymakers were partly blamed for reviving infections. “If we drop our guard now, the third wave is just around the corner,” the health minister Roberto Speranza told parliament on Wednesday.
The government resisted pressure from leaders of Alpine regions and opted to keep ski resorts closed until 7 January, while midnight mass on Christmas Eve will have to be brought forward so that worshippers can make it home before the 10pm curfew.
The debate in parliament over the measures was heated, with Italia Viva, the centrist party led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi that is part of the ruling majority, calling for softer restrictions.
The measures infuriated regional governors, who said in a joint statement earlier on Thursday that they had not been consulted and that “the lack of discussion has made it impossible to balance the curbs with the needs of families”.
Attilio Fontana, president of the northern Lombardy region, said: “Reading an unexpected decree that bans movements between towns in the same region on 25 and 26 December and 1 January … is crazy.” Lombardy is the region worst hit by the pandemic, recording 22,626 deaths.
Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League, the far-right opposition party, said: “These families must remain divided even at Christmas. This is yet more proof that the government does not know Italy.”
Conte was due to address the nation at 8.15pm local time to outline the measures, which will be in force from Friday. Other measures are expected to include an obligation for people returning to Italy from EU countries between 10 and 21 December to undertake a coronavirus test before travelling and to present the negative result on arrival.
Those travelling in from non-Schengen countries must quarantine for 14 days. Then from 21 December until 6 January all travellers arriving in Italy must undertake a two-week quarantine.