March 14, 2020 / 1:59 PM / 17 days ago

Italy tightens workplace rules in coronavirus crisis

MILAN, March 14 (Reuters) - Italy agreed a series of measures on Saturday to improve health controls in factories, offices and other workplaces that have been allowed to stay open during the country’s coronavirus lockdown.

The measures agreed after all-night talks with companies and trade union leaders include tighter controls on workplace practices and cleaning protocols, as well as steps to encourage more home-working, Economy Ministry undersecretary Pier Paolo Baretta said.

In addition, help will be offered to workers who have lost income during the lockdown announced across the country last week to try to contain the crisis.

“For the good of the country, for the protection of workers. Italy will not come to a stop,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Twitter.

Italy is at the epicentre of a coronavirus outbreak that is spreading rapidly across Europe, threatening both public health and the economy.

As of Friday, authorities had recorded at least 17,660 cases and 1,266 deaths, the most for any country outside China, where the virus first emerged.

Deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri announced on Saturday that he had tested positive for the virus.

Underlining the international dimension of the crisis, a group of Chinese specialists arrived in Italy with medical equipment and advice.

Under the unprecedented lockdown, the government has forbidden all non-essential travel, telling people to stay at home. Airlines have slashed services to Italy and the Transport Ministry said on Saturday that night train services would be suspended.

Schools, restaurants and most shops have been closed but so far, factories, offices and other workplaces have been allowed to remain open.

Supermarkets and bakeries have also been open but entry is controlled to limit the number of people inside at any one time and long queues of shoppers waiting outside have become a feature of daily life. Online delivery services are booked out.

Business lobby Confindustria said the measures would allow factories to stay open and key sectors including food and pharmaceuticals to keep working and “prepare for economic recovery as soon as we get through this”.

Italy’s economy, already on the brink of recession, is expected to be heavily impacted by the crisis with sectors from tourism to fashion or manufacturing seeing orders collapse since the virus first appeared in the country in a small town close to Milan last month. (Reporting by James Mackenzie Editing by Helen Popper)

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