Italy confronts virus discontent as gloom engulfs global economy

Joseph BOYLE with AFP bureaus
·3-min read

Italy faced growing discontent and protests over its virus restrictions on Tuesday, as dire figures on global tourism and investment highlighted the devastating economic impact of the pandemic. 

Thousands had protested in cities across Italy on Monday over the mandatory early closure of restaurants and other businesses, with more planned in the coming days. Some rallies turned violent when angry youths threw petrol bombs and stones at police cars and smashed up shop fronts -- Turin and Milan being particularly hard hit.

The clashes were "a black page" in Turin's history, said local police chief Giuseppe De Matteis, "which cannot be attributed to social discontent but... to orchestration by individuals dedicated to crime".

However, unhappiness over the measures in Italy and elsewhere in Europe -- once again the global epicentre of the pandemic -- is palpable among the business owners and residents who are once again facing lengthy restrictions as economies struggle to recover.

The United Nations, which is battling its own outbreak, forcing it to halt all face-to-face meetings at its New York headquarters, published a slew of data laying bare the travails of the global economy.

While the World Tourism Organization said tourism had collapsed by 70 percent this year leading to a $730-billion loss in revenues, the UN's trade body UNCTAD said foreign direct investment was likely to slump by 40 percent.

The grim economic outlook was compounded by continuing spikes in virus cases across Europe and beyond -- Iran and Russia both registering record highs for daily cases on Tuesday.

More than 1.1 million have died from the virus since it emerged late last year in China.

- 'Out of control' -

Italian politicians were scrambling to deal with the wave of frustration -- the violent protests marking a significant escalation in opposition to their handling of the crisis. 

Protests have generally been muted, sometimes galvanised by particular industries like taxi drivers or restaurateurs, other times forming around rag-tag groups of anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists or those from the political fringes of the right and left.

"While we were drawing up the restrictions, we were also working to get resources to those people who will be most affected," Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte wrote on Twitter as he prepared to announce a multi-billion-euro aid package likely to include tax credits and funds to cover a further 10 weeks of furloughs.

In neighbouring France, battling one of the worst outbreaks in the world, officials said they were facing "hard choices" as hospitals warned they were just days away from being overrun with patients.

"The outbreak is out of control," said infectious disease specialist Gilles Pialoux, urging the government to lock down. "The economy can bounce back, but you don't bounce if intensive care fails."

- 'Get into it' -

Europe's economy, however, is failing to rebound from earlier lockdowns.

Almost one-fifth of jittery eurozone banks tightened lending requirements in the third quarter, compared with just one percent in the previous period, a survey by the European Central Bank showed in an indication that the banks' faith in a recovery is faltering.

And the UN's revelations on the tourism slump were thrown into sharp relief as Japanese airline ANA forecast a record $4.87-billion net loss for the year, announcing it would retire aircraft and send hundreds of staff to work for other companies.

However, residents of Australia's second-biggest city Melbourne were getting ready to party -- with bars set to open fully for the first time since March after the city recorded two days with no new infections.

"We've been closed for 61 percent of the year, so we're pretty keen -- we want to get into it straight away."

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