Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has called any suggestion that Russia had an ulterior motive in sending coronavirus aid to Italy “an insult to the Italian government,” warning that the pandemic poses an existential threat to the EU.
Amid stalled EU relief efforts, aid and personnel arrived in Italy from China, Cuba and Russia to help Italian medical authorities fight back against the coronavirus outbreak in the country, which ravaged its northern regions and forced a total lockdown of society.
When asked if the Russian coronavirus aid, in the form of both manpower and medical equipment, was a ploy by the Kremlin to leverage Italian support for lifting EU-imposed sanctions on Russia, Conte did not mince words.
“The mere insinuation offends me deeply,” he said. “It’s an insult to the Italian government… and also to Vladimir Putin, who would never dream of using this as leverage.”
One of several Russian aid drop-offs reportedly included a message that read “from Russia with love” in a plane of equipment to help the beleaguered country, which stole the headlines for all the wrong reasons at the initial peak of the crisis in Europe.
The prime minister added that the coronavirus crisis poses a challenge to “the existence of Europe” due to infighting over the best course of action in terms of economic recovery.
Both the Spanish and Italian governments have been pushing for a coordinated response from the EU, including the sharing of debt associated with the crisis and the establishment of a solidarity fund using so-called “coronabonds,” but the proposal has been opposed by countries like Germany and the Netherlands.
Italian banks already face the highest exposure to small businesses in Europe, and the country’s economy will likely be among the hardest-hit in the post-coronavirus recession.
Meanwhile, Conte struck a cautiously optimistic tone about his country’s immediate future, saying that “experts are confirming that the curve is starting to decline and stabilise… The number of infections is decreasing,” before adding the disclaimer that Italy, “cannot go from a lockdown to liberalizing all economic activity. We need to do it gradually.”
Latest figures indicate that day-on-day increases in coronavirus infections have dropped from seven percent just two weeks ago to slightly over one percent. The daily death toll has almost halved, from 919 a fortnight ago to 542 fatalities in the past 24 hours.
At time of writing, Italy has 139,422 confirmed cases, while the country’s death toll stands at 17,669.
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