Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Wednesday that Rome was allocating 25 billion euros ($28.3 billion) to fight the novel coronavirus outbreak that has killed 631 people in Italy.
“We have allocated an emergency sum of 25 billion euros,” Conte told reporters during a break in a meeting on the government’s response to the rapidly escalating health crisis.
The entire sum “will not all be used immediately,” Conte added.
Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri said Italy will immediately use “half of these resources” and keep the other half in reserve.
Italy unveiled a 7.5-billion-euro emergency response package last Thursday that officials later said would likely have to be increase to match the rapid rise in new infections and deaths.
A top economy minister had said on Tuesday that the package could reach 10 billion euros.
Italy, whose faltering economy is the third largest in the eurozone, needs special EU permission to spend more than allowed under the bloc’s strict budget rules for its 27 member states.
EU leaders had said they would accept Italy’s request when it still stood at 7.5 billion euros.
Italy has witnessed more than half of all the deaths recoded outside China since the epidemic first started spreading from the Asian giant’s central Wuhan province in January.
The government responded to the outbreak last month by quarantining 50 000 people in 11 villages that were worst affected in the north.
That was followed on Sunday with restrictions on travel and public gatherings in Milan’s Lombardy region and surrounding areas such as Venice in which more than 15 million live and 40% of all economic activity occurs.
The Lombardy measures were extended to all of the Mediterranean country’s 60 million people on Tuesday morning.
The restrictions have had a profound effect on the way Italians live and work.
The central streets of Rome were deserted on Wednesday morning and busses that are usually crammed with commuters ran almost empty.
Tourists have disappeared and the Vatican’s Saint Peter’s Square is closed to all but those who want to enter the main basilica to pray under its soaring dome overlooking Rome.
People have been told to keep at least a metre (three feet) from each other and handshakes are frowned upon. Italians have found themselves starting to talk to each other a few steps apart – while often laughing about the regulations along the way.