ROME 

Italy reported 16,202 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, up from 11,212 a day before, as the Italian premier ruled out mandatory vaccination in the country. 

Italian health authorities also registered 575 new deaths from COVID-19, down from 659 the previous day. The infection rate rose to 9.5% from 8.7% in the past 24 hours.

Italy is struggling to contain a second outbreak that has proven to be as deadly as the first.

The Italian government has imposed strict restrictions over the Christmas holidays to limit public movements and large gatherings that could further spread the virus across the country, possibly sparking a third wave early next year.

The government, however, will not make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Wednesday during the traditional year-end press conference.

He added he was confident that there would be a wide demand for the vaccine among Italian citizens on a voluntary basis.

The vaccine will be free of charge and health workers and elderly people will be the first to be offered the voluntary inoculation.

“We are not considering making it mandatory, we rule it out,” Conte told reporters, as the debate over vaccination heats up in the country.

The premier also said that the government aims at finalizing its much-awaited recovery plan by February to be able to access about €209 billion ($256.74 billion) in EU funds designed to help the countries most hit by the pandemic.

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