Scuffles as Italy’s lengthy COVID-19 curbs spark small business protests

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Dozens of small business owners scuffled with police on Tuesday as they tried to force their way into Rome’s parliament square to protest against Italy’s long-running coronavirus restrictions.

“Freedom, freedom,” protesters shouted as police used batons and shields to push them back into an adjacent street. One policeman was injured after he was hit on the head by an object hurled at him from the crowd, local media reported.

The government has imposed repeated curbs over the past 14 months to try to contain COVID-19, which has killed more than 111,000 people in Italy, the second worst tally in Europe after Britain.

Last week the cabinet ruled that bars and restaurants could only offer a takeaway service in April, angering many businesses who had hoped to reopen fully as the vaccination campaign picks up speed and case numbers hold relatively steady.

“The health situation is serious but our economic and social situation is more serious. Here there are 10,000 people, 10,000 families, 10,000 women and children who are desperate,” said restaurant owner Umberto Cariera, from the city of Pesaro.

“Desperation has brought us here,” he added.

Other protests were reported elsewhere in Italy.

In the financial capital Milan traffic around the central railway station was blocked, while a few hundred street vendors occupied a portion of highway close to the city of Caserta, between Rome and Naples.

While an initial national lockdown in March 2020 was widely accepted, the announcement of renewed restrictions in October faced immediate pushback in several Italian cities.

Those protests faded as infection rates soared, but the decision to prolong curbs into the Spring, with no clear idea of when they might be eased, has once again raised hackles.

“They have taken away the right to work. They have taken away our dignity. We don’t have any money to buy bread,” said a restaurant owner called Monica, who declined to give her last name.

Main Photo: Clashes with Police during the demonstration of traders, shopkeepers and restaurateurs as they protest protest over lockdown measures to curb the spread of Covid-19, next to the Chamber of Deputies in piazza Montecitorio, in Rome, Italy, 06 April 2021. EPA-EFE/RICCARDO ANTIMIANI

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