ROME 

Italy on Sunday reported 145 more fatalities from the novel coronavirus, bringing the death toll to 31,908, as citizens and businesses brace for a relaxation of the prolonged lockdown starting next week.

Data released by the country’s Civil Protection Department confirmed the peak of the outbreak was left behind, as stressed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte during a press conference in which he announced the softer lockdown rules.

The tally of active infections on Sunday fell by 1,836, placing the total at 68,351.

Meanwhile, recoveries continued to climb, reaching 125,176, as more patients left intensive care, easing pressure on Italy’s overwhelmed healthcare system.

The epicenter of the Italian outbreak remains the northern Lombardy region, where fatalities have kept rising to reach 15,519, almost half of the country’s total deaths.

Late on Saturday, Conte explained the new rules that retailers and businesses will have to follow as they reopen from Monday.

The government decree also allows international travel to and from the country from June 3.

“We’re facing a calculated risk in the knowledge that the contagion curve may rise again,” Conte said in a televised speech late on Saturday, adding: “We have to accept it otherwise we will never be able to start up again.”

The prime minister said Italy’s businesses could not afford to wait until a vaccine was found, otherwise the country “would end up with a strongly damaged economic and social structure”.

Conte also stressed the lockdown rules will be relaxed gradually to avoid a second wave of contagions.

Restaurants will have to ensure a distance of at least 1 meter (3.2 feet) between customers, who will be obliged to make reservations. Business owners are also requested to keep records of the reservations for at least two weeks to help track possible infections.

The 1-meter distance also needs to be applied for people standing at bar counters for drinks.

Hairdressers and beauty salons also have to start taking reservations and must ensure strict sanitary measures.

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