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Italy sets aside €400m for food vouchers as social unrest mounts

The Italian government has designated €400m (£358m) for food vouchers amid brewing social unrest as the country’s coronavirus lockdown takes its toll on the poor.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte made the announcement late on Saturday after reports emerged of people in the south running out of food and money. He said that €4.3bn would immediately be made available to mayors to help their citizens and another €400m would go towards an emergency food-relief fund.

“We know that many suffer, but the state is there,” Conte said.

Italy is currently the EU country worst affected by coronavirus and its economy has been severely damaged. The governmentapproved a €25bn financial package earlier this month to safeguard the economy.

The entire country has been under lockdown for almost three weeks. The quarantine was due to end on 3 April, but will likely be extended.

Tension has been mounting on the island of Sicily in recent days, with police now patrolling supermarkets following a series of thefts. People have been running out of supermarkets without paying or pressuring small shop owners to give them free food, according to Italian media reports.

La Repubblica reported that one person shouted at cashiers in a supermarket in Palermo: “We have no money to pay, we have to eat.”

With income lost or businesses closed, many have been forced to turn to charities for help. “We have nothing to eat,” Carmela, a mother-of-three from Palermo, told La Stampa.

Citing recent data, La Stampa reported that 300,000 people across Sicily had been working off the books, among them carers, parking attendants and street vendors. “These must be added to the new poor,” the newspaper said. One young man who had been working off the books in a nightclub in Palermo was sleeping in his car, the newspaper added.

A fast-food delivery company said it was suspending deliveries in ZEN [Zona Espansione Nord], a deprived area in the outskirts of the Sicilian capital, after one of its riders was attacked and robbed on Saturday.

A video also emerged of a couple begging for a €50 advance outside a bank in Bari, Puglia, after their shop was forced to close due to the quarantine.

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