Italy says coronavirus lockdown may need to be extended

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[March 18, 2020]  ROME (Reuters) - An unprecedented lockdown imposed on Italians last week to halt the spread of coronavirus might be extended if the incidence of new cases doesn't slow, officials said on Wednesday.

The government has ordered restaurants, bars and most shops to shut down until March 25. In addition, it has shut schools and universities and told everyone to stay at home unless absolutely essential until April 3.

Since the restrictions were ramped up on March 12, the number of new cases has more than doubled in Italy to 31,506. The number of deaths has more than tripled to 2,503.

"I do not know if the measures will be extended beyond April 3. We will make a decision based on the numbers and events. I cannot rule it out. We will see in the coming days," said Infrastructure Minister Paola De Micheli.

The head of welfare in the northern region of Lombardy, the epicenter of the contagion, said even tougher curbs might be needed to halt the trend.

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"Either the curve goes down by Sunday or we will probably have to consider adopting even more rigid measures," Giulio Gallera told 7 Gold TV.

Lombardy has previously signaled it wants to shut down all businesses, including production lines, and idle the public transport system to try to extinguish the outbreak.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer, Elvira Pollina and Francesca Piscioneri; editing by Larry King)

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