By Giada Zampano

ROME, Italy

Italy on Saturday reported 533 more COVID-19 related deaths. Although numbers have decreased from 674 as reported on Friday, the country continues to register the highest deaths in Europe.

The country also recorded 16,308 new infections, down from 17,992 reported on Friday, confirming the trend observed over the past few weeks, which showed that the pandemic curve is flattening, but at a very slow pace.

The Italian government on Friday imposed a partial nationwide lockdown for most of the Christmas holiday period, to stem the spread of COVID-19 cases during vacations.

Addressing a press conference, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said that the restrictions were “a painful decision” and were needed because huge family reunions and gatherings could spark a third wave of pandemic early next year.

“The virus continues to circulate everywhere. We can bend it, but we cannot defeat it,” Conte said.

“This is why even among our experts there is a strong concern that the pandemic curve could spike up again during the Christmas period, “he added.

According to new rules, people’s movements on holidays and weekends from Dec. 21-Jan. 6 will be severely limited, with a slight easing only on four working days.

Visits to friends or family members of no more than two people are allowed during the day, from 5 p.m.-10 p.m. when a general curfew kicks in.

The new restrictions have banned Christmas lunches in restaurants, but have allowed takeaway and delivery services. The government has also announced an additional aid of 645 million euros ($790 million) to help businesses hit hard due to the pandemic.

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