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Italy approves post-Covid economic recovery plan

Italy's parliament overwhelmingly approved the government's huge European Union-funded pandemic recovery plan Tuesday, just days before the deadline to submit it to Brussels.

Italy approves post-Covid economic recovery plan
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi arranges his papers at the end of his speeches in the Italian Parliament on April 26th. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Prime Minister Mario Draghi unveiled the 222.1-billion-euro ($268.3-billion) programme on Monday, saying it would address both the damage wrought by Covid-19 and Italy’s long-standing structural issues.

READ ALSO: Fast trains and extended building bonus: How Italy’s EU recovery plan could affect you

Lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies voted by 442 to 19 to support the plan, with 51 abstentions.

The upper house Senate followed suit, giving approval late on Tuesday the evening, with 224 members voting for the plan and 16 against, with 21 abstaining.

Some opposition lawmakers complained about the lack of time to study the details in the programme’s more than 300 pages, which Draghi said would decide Italy’s destiny and its credibility on the world stage.

“We will be responsible for the success or failure” of this decision, he told the Senate.

“A failure would be serious for us and for the future of Europe. There will not be another opportunity for a common fiscal policy,” he said, adding that such a policy was “in our interest as one of the most fragile countries in the EU”.

Draghi, who has been prime minister since February, emphasised the importance of meeting the EU’s deadline to submit the plan.

“We felt it was very important to approve the plan by April 30th, because this allows us to have access to European funds as soon as possible,” he said.

The Italian Parliament at Montecitorio Palace in Rome as Draghi presented his plans on April 26th. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI/AFP

Italy was the first European country to be hit by the pandemic in early 2020 and remains one of the worst affected, with the EU’s highest reported death toll and one of the deepest recessions.

The country is pinning its hopes on a 222-billion-euro investment and reform plan funded largely by the European Union.

Italy, with the eurozone’s third-largest economy, is set to be the biggest recipient of the bloc’s 750-billion-euro post-pandemic recovery fund.

Draghi told lawmakers on Monday that his plan would help “repair the economic and social damage” caused by the pandemic.

More than 119,000 people with coronavirus have died in Italy, while the economy contracted by 8.9 percent last year and a million jobs have been lost.

But Draghi said the plan also “addresses some weaknesses that have plagued our economy and our society for decades”.

The government said the plan represents a significant investment in both young people and women, particularly hard hit by unemployment. Businesses will have financial incentives to recruit people from both categories.

The five-year plan has six main elements, said a government spokesman.

Nearly 50 billion euros will go towards a push to get Italy’s internet network up to speed. 

Italy ranked fourth from the bottom in the European Commission’s latest index of digital competitiveness (DESI).

The building superbonus, which provides state aid to renovate old and energy-inefficient housing in Italy, is also pegged to get a wedge of the recovery fund.

Nearly 68 billion euros will go towards a “green revolution and ecological transition”.

Projects include plans to increase recycling and to relaunch local public road and rail transport using less polluting vehicles. 

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The government also wants to invest in renewable energy and explore hydrogen power.

Italy will put 31.4 billion euros towards modernising the country’s transport infrastructure, prioritising regional rail services and high-speed trains.

It will spend 31.9 billion euros on education on research, and more places for young children in creches and nursery schools.

Small businesses across Italy have been hit hard by shudowns due to Covid-19 since March 2020. Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

And as part of its social inclusion initiative it will invest 22.4 billion euros in helping people get into the workplace, investing in women’s businesses for example.

There will be 18.5 billion euros set aside for work to reinforce preventive health work and the computerisation of the healthcare system.

At the same time, the government has vowed to modernise the country’s public administration system, getting younger people in and improving training.

READ ALSO: Beat the queues: 19 bits of Italian bureaucracy you can do online

Reforms will also try to speed up the court system and cut red tape in the country’s administrative procedures.

The plan will go before both chambers of parliament this week for approval, starting Monday.

The European Commission set a deadline of April 30th for receiving each government’s final plan for using their share of the recovery pot.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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