ROME, March 11 (Xinhua) -- Italy will allocate 25 billion euros (28.3 billion U.S. dollars) public funds to deal with the COVID-19 emergency in the country, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Wednesday.
"The cabinet meeting is still ongoing, and we have just agreed on the allocation of extraordinary funds -- 25 billion euros (28.3 billion U.S. dollars) -- in the awareness of the difficulties our country is facing in this emergency," Conte told a televised press conference in the morning.
He stressed the government was considering the ongoing epidemic an emergency both at public health and at economic level.
The sum will represent a spike in public spending from the first 7.5 billion euros emergency fund announced last week.
"It means 25 billion euros of financial tools, not to be used immediately ... but surely to be used during the emergency to tackle all of the problems we are facing," the prime minister added.
At the same table, Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri explained this would translate into a request to the Italian parliament (which has to approve all cabinet's key decisions in terms of public finance) "for deviating the country's deficit targets by 20 billion euros in terms of net debt, which would coincide with 25 billion euros in terms of budget cash."
"Such resources will be partially used in a first decree we are going to approve later this week, most likely on Friday, and that should count on about 12 billion euros," Gualtieri specified.
"The remaining will represent reserve funds to be allocated for possible future actions, also within the European framework," he added.
According to the Civil Protection Department, since the epidemic first emerged in northern Italy on Feb. 21, the country had registered 10,149 coronavirus cases until late Tuesday.
Patients currently hospitalized with symptoms are 5,038, and 877 are in intensive care. The death toll was 631, with 168 new fatalities registered on Tuesday.
Such data would be updated again late on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the country adopted the most stringent containment measures after China at global level. Since Tuesday, the entire country with a population of some 60 million has been put under lockdown. People are invited to stay at home except for work, family emergencies, and health needs until April 3.
Such measures followed the closure of schools and universities, and all public places such as pub and discos.
It was a further effort to both contain the spread of the virus and avoid excessive pressure on the public health system.
At the press conference, Conte said he was happy with the reaction so far seen at the European Union (EU) level.
"We held a videoconference with European Council President Charles Michel and all counterpart leaders of EU member states yesterday, and I have seen high attention is being paid to the situation we (Italy) are going through," he said.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde also took part in the conference, according to the Italian prime minister.
"There was full awareness this emergency could reasonably and likely reach the whole of the European continent, and there has been a great opening towards our requests," Conte said. (1 euro = 1.13 U.S. dollars)