ROME - In Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus, the debate is growing on whether it is time to downgrade the emergency and start easing restrictions after a strict five-week lockdown, now that the virus spread is showing what some see as signs of slowing down.
On top of that, there is pressure to reopen industries and businesses in the face of what could be a massive economic meltdown.
The daily death toll has been dropping steadily - as have admissions to intensive care units. But with about 500 people still dying each day, the country’s prime minister is resisting calls to relax strict social distancing and other measures.
Giuseppe Conte is urging caution and says any decision to downgrade the emergency must be taken gradually and together with scientists.
He also warned of dire consequences yet to come for the whole of Europe if the EU does not come together and agree on a rescue package.
Conte said the future of the European Union is at stake in a challenge he has compared to that of World War II.
In an interview with the German newspaper Bild, Conte, said Europe must unite and deliver a solid response to head off a devastation of the European economy. He said the sooner financial instruments are created that will allow countries to deal with this crisis, the sooner everyone will emerge from this situation and enjoy economic and social advantages.
Divisions between southern European nations, led by Italy, and northern ones, mainly Germany and the Netherlands, have so far stalled plans for a massive package to help the hardest-hit economies recover from the effects of the pandemic.