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Italian PM Conte wins backing to extend COVID-19 emergency period

Rome: Italy's upper house of parliament approved on Tuesday, July 28 a request by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to extend until Oct. 15 a state of emergency, expanding his government's powers as it tackles the coronavirus health crisis.

Opposition parties had objected, accusing Conte of trying to keep too much power in his own hands despite a dramatic fall in the rate of contagion. However, the upper house Senate passed the measure by 157 votes to 125 in the 319-seat chamber. Conte announced a six-month state of emergency on Jan. 31, when the first two cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Rome.

"Since there are contagion situations in various areas of the world that show no sign of improving and that the situation in countries close to us, or even bordering with us, such as France, the Balkan countries and Spain, requires an attitude of careful vigilance to prevent the resurgence of the contagion affects also Italy," Conte told the Senate in Tuesday's debate.
However, he drew back from initial plans to seek an extension until the end of the year, saying he only wanted a renewal until mid-October. The state of emergency gives greater powers to both regional and central government, including making it easier for ministers to declare red zones should the disease flare up again, and to bolster hospital resources.
It will also cut bureaucracy as officials prepare schools to reopen in September after being shut for six months. Italy has been one of the worst-affected countries in Europe, registering more than 35,000 deaths from around 246,500 cases. However, new infections have fallen sharply over the past three months and Conte's critics said he needed to involve parliament in key decisions. The lower house, where the coalition has a much larger majority, will vote on the measure on Wednesday, July 29.

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