Italy to extend COVID state of emergency to end of April: minister

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Spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Rome

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Wednesday the government will extend the country's COVID-19 state of emergency to the end of April, as infections currently show no sign of abating.

The state of emergency, which was to expire at the end of January, gives greater powers to central government, making it easier for officials to bypass the bureaucracy that smothers much decision-making in Italy.

"The government sees it appropriate to extend to April 30 the state of emergency. There has been a dramatic rise in the risk index," Speranza told the lower house of parliament.

Italy has registered 79,819 COVID-19 deaths since its outbreak came to light on Feb. 21, the second-highest toll in Europe and the sixth-highest in the world. The country has also reported 2.303 million cases to date.

(Reporting by Claudia Cristoferi, writing by Giulia Segreti, editing by Gavin Jones)