Daily coronavirus cases in Italy hit a new record of 24,991 on Wednesday as the government defended the restrictive measures imposed to stop the second wave of the contagion. 

The total number of infections rose to 589,766, while deaths also jumped by 205 – above the 200 mark for the second day in a row – raising the death toll to 37,905.

Data from the Health Ministry, however, showed that the number of swab tests executed in the past 24 hours stood at 198,952, the highest since the start of the pandemic.

Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte addressed lawmakers’ questions over the latest restrictions that have sparked tensions across Italy.

He said the current scenario required immediate action to avoid a nationwide lockdown, with the move backed by the scientific committee that advises the government.

“We are aware of the fact that these measures are severe, but they are necessary to control the contagion,” Conte said.

“Otherwise the epidemiologic curve will spike out of control.”

A new government decree issued last week imposed stricter rules that closed gyms, pools, cinemas, and theaters, while forcing bars and restaurants to shut down before 6 p.m. local time [1700GMT].

The measures sparked protests in several cities, from north to south, with some turning violent. Associations of business owners have complained the new rules will have a devastating effect on their activities.

The government responded on Tuesday by approving a new package of financial aid aimed at the worst-hit categories, including the food and tourism sectors, with funds to be available by mid-November.

The new measures, worth up to €5 billion ($5.8 billion), include funds for furlough schemes and stopping further layoffs.

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