“The measures we have taken… must be extended beyond their original deadline,” Conte told the Corriere della Sera newspaper early on Thursday morning following a meeting with ministers at Palazzo Chigi.
Conte referred to the closures of many businesses, “individual activities” and the shutdown of schools.
He did not give a date or any further details on the extension of the measures.
“In the next few days we will make the appropriate choices,” he said
Imposed nationally on March 12, the shutdown of most businesses and a ban on public gatherings in Italy, the European country worst hit by the pandemic, are due to expire on March 25.
School closures and other measures, such as a ban on fan attendance at sporting events, are due to run on until April 3.
“We have avoided the collapse of the system. The restrictive measures work,” Conte said.
Italian government ministers had said on Wednesday that they may tighten quarantine rules yet further, saying they are considering a complete ban on all outdoor activities including exercise, after 43,000 people across Italy were fined by police within one week for being outside “without a good reason”.
Speaking on Thursday morning, Conte warned people in Italy to “use common sense and act with the utmost awareness,” adding: “There are criminal sanctions for those who transgress, and they will be applied severely.”
Conte said he agreed with those mayors who have also closed parks in their cities, saying “doing sport is another way of transforming public places into assembly points, which is inadmissible.”
“At the moment there are no new far-reaching restrictive measures, but if the prohibitions are not respected we will have to act. “
Italy reported a record high 475 deaths in one day on Wednesday, bringing the total number of fatalities near 3,000.
The total number of confirmed cases in Italy, including the deceased and recovered, has passed 35,000.
Conte expressed hope that the country will hit a peak in a few days and see a decline in infection rates.
But he warned “we will not be able to return immediately to life as it was before” even after worst is over.
Experts are not yet able to predict with certainty when the outbreak will reach its peak and when Italy will start to see the number of cases fall.
Some experts estimate the peak will occur on March 23-25.
However, other analysts, noting that infections are starting to rise in the south, where many Italians moved to after the start of containment measures in the north, predict that figures across Italy will only stabilise between March 25 and April 15.
Still others say that such predictions are impossible, as data vary enormously depending on the region, and a whole range of different factors are at play.