(Adds PM Conte quotes, latest infection data)
ROME, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Tuesday imposed new restrictions on gatherings, restaurants, sports and school activities in an attempt to slow a surge in novel coronavirus infections.
The latest steps marked the second time in a week that the government has toughened its measures, though overall they remain less severe than those in other European countries such as Britain and Spain, where infection rates are far higher.
“We must avoid plunging the country into a general lockdown, the economy has started to move fast again,” Conte told a news conference.
The government decree, which will take effect within 24 hours and be valid for 30 days, bans parties in restaurants, clubs or in the open air and strongly recommends that people do not hold parties in their homes or host more than six guests at any time.
Weddings and other ceremonies can be attended by no more than 30 people.
“We won’t send the police into people’s houses,” Conte said, responding to widely expressed concerns the government was unjustifiably trying to control people’s behaviour in their own homes.
Hours after he signed the legislation, health ministry data showed there were 5,901 new coronavirus cases in Italy over the last 24 hours, the highest daily tally since late March when shops, restaurants and most workplaces were closed.
Conte said the increase in cases was mainly due to clusters related to families and friends, while the situation in schools was “quite good”.
With 41 COVID-related fatalities in Italy on Tuesday, the daily death toll from the virus is also steadily edging up, but it remains far below peaks above 900 deaths at the height of the country’s epidemic in late March and early April.
The latest decree firmly advises that masks, which are already obligatory in public buildings and outdoors, should also be worn at home when non-family members are present.
Restaurants and bars can remain open until midnight for table service but cannot serve people standing up, inside or outside the premises, after 9 p.m.
This is intended to stop the large evening gatherings outside bars which are partly blamed for a rise in infections.
Amateur contact sports such as soccer are banned unless they are organised by officially recognised bodies which have signed up to COVID safety protocols set by national sports federations. In practice, this means most amateur teams can continue to play.
Schools will remain open but non-classroom activities are curtailed, with a ban on school trips and exchange visits. (Reporting by Gavin Jones, Editing by Ed Osmond and Grant McCool)
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