COVID-19 curbs divide Italy's coalition parties

* Rightist League party abstains on new decree

* 5-Star Movement, PD say League threatens government unity

* Restaurants and bars to reopen in low-infection regions

* Six-month internal travel pass to vaccinated or recovered Italians

ROME, April 21 (Reuters) - Italy's national unity government on Wednesday approved a decree easing COVID-19 curbs but the rightist League party abstained, complaining restrictions on business and movement had not been relaxed enough.

The government of former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi has laid down a timetable for reopening most of the long-shuttered activities and permit travel between Italy's 20 regions.

Limitations will be lifted gradually and some will remain in place, however, including a nationwide 10 p.m. curfew which the League and regional governors had asked to be put back to 11 p.m.

"We could not vote for a decree that continues to impose closures, curfews, limitations," League leader Matteo Salvini said in a statement.

Pressure on hospitals has eased slightly in recent days in Italy, where some 118,000 people have died of COVID-19, the second highest tally in Europe after Britain, and hundreds of fatalities are reported every day.

Both the 5-Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party have criticized the League for failing to stay united on the issue.

"This government was created to boost national cohesion. Today the unity of our decisions has been called into question," 5-Star Movement party sources said.

From April 26, Italy will reinstate a four-tier, color-coded system to calibrate curbs in its 20 regions which had been paused in mid-March to enforce the toughest red or orange zones nationwide due to a rise in coronavirus cases.

Restaurants and bars will be allowed to serve clients at outside tables in yellow and white regions, where cinemas, theaters and concert halls will also reopen with attendance limits, a government statement said.

In addition, Italians who have recovered from coronavirus or have been vaccinated will be eligible for a six-month 'green pass' for regional travel, while those who show a negative test will receive a 48-hour certificate.

Until now, movement to and from red and orange regions was allowed only for work, health reasons or emergencies.

Open-air swimming pools will reopen from May 15 in the low infection areas, the government statement says, while gyms will restart on June 1. (Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

04/21/2021 18:58

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