The total death toll due to novel coronavirus has claimed more than 31,300 lives. As of today, Italy's death toll stood at 31,368, bringing the total number of cases, including fatalities and recoveries, so far to 223,096, according to the latest data released by the country's Civil Protection Department. The number of recoveries rose to 115,288, an increase of 2,747 compared to Wednesday. Nationwide, the number of active infections fell by 2,017 to 76,440, according to the Civil Protection Department, Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday.
Of those who tested positive for the coronavirus, 855 are being treated in intensive care, a decrease of 38 compared to Wednesday, and 11,453 people are hospitalized with symptoms, a decrease of 719 over the past 24 hours.
The remaining 64,132 people -- or 84 per cent of those who have tested positive -- are in isolation at home without or with only mild symptoms.
The Lombardy region whose capital is Milan still had the lion's share of cases (29,956), followed by its neighbours Piedmont (11,891), Emilia-Romagna (6,301) and the Veneto region whose capital is Venice (4,718).
In the rest of Italy's 20 regions, case totals ranged from 4,096 in the central Lazio region where Rome is located, to 80 cases in the northern Valle d'Aosta region in the Alps.
At a press conference broadcast on Facebook earlier in the day, Cultural Heritage and Tourism Minister Dario Franceschini said that the government's brand-new, 55-billion-euro (almost US $60 billion) Recovery Decree contains 4 billion euros for the tourism industry and 1 billion euros for the cultural sector.
The measures include hefty tax, rent and mortgage exemptions for hotels, restaurants, tour operators, travel agencies, seaside establishments, and cultural institutions -- such as theaters and cinemas -- which have lost or stand to lose significant chunks of their revenue due to the pandemic.
"This proves there is an awareness of the strategic importance of these two sectors in our country," Franceschini said.
The biggest package is a 2.4-billion-euro "holiday bonus", allocating 500 euros to families with income of up to 40,000 euros a year for stays in Italian agri-tourism facilities, bed and breakfasts, camp grounds, hotels, and village resorts between July 1 and December 31 this year.
"This will mean helping families but also injecting liquidity into the reception facilities," the minister said.
In addition, Franceschini said his ministry is setting up a 150-million-euro tourism fund to protect the sector from being snapped up by foreign investors.
"The culture sector has been dramatically impacted -- museums have not seen a single euro of revenue," Franceschini noted as he introduced a 210-million-euro emergency fund for private-sector cultural enterprises and a 100-million-euro fund to partially cover the lost revenues of Italy's 400 state museums.
"These measures will allow them to cross this desert," Franceschini said.
There are also a strategic 100-million-euro fund open to "private entities that want to invest in culture in our country," and 245 million euros to support Italy's film industry.
Lastly, said Franceschini, the city of Parma, which is Italian capital of culture "in this unfortunate year 2020" will remain capital of culture in 2021.
Italy's museums are set to reopen on May 18.
Also on Thursday, Italy's national institute of statistics ISTAT said the pandemic has caused exports and imports to contract by 16.8 per cent in March compared to the previous month.
"On a yearly basis, the drastic fall of sales on foreign markets of machinery, motor vehicles and leather goods makes up more than half of the drop in exports," ISTAT analysts wrote. "Reduced purchases of motor vehicles, metals, oil, and natural gas make up about 9 percentage points of the drop in imports on an annual basis."
The strong contraction of exports on a monthly basis is due to a significant decrease in sales to non-European Union (EU) markets (-18.5 per cent) and to the EU (-15.2 per cent).
Exports were down by 4.1 per cent and imports were down by 5.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the preceding quarter. Due to fewer sales to both non-EU (-14.7 per cent) and EU countries (-12.2 per cent), exports plunged 13.5 per cent in March compared to the same period in 2019.
The sectors that bucked the trend on a yearly basis in terms of exports were pharmaceuticals (+32.5 per cent) and food, beverages and tobacco (+13.5 per cent).
On a yearly basis, the countries that contributed the most to the decrease in Italy's exports were the UK and the OPEC countries, both down 24.3 per cent.
Imports also decreased "drastically" year-on-year (-18.1 per cent) in terms of purchases from non-EU countries (-21.7 per cent) as well as EU countries (-15.5 per cent).
(With Inputs from IANS)