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Italy PM accuses banks in blame game over cash for businesses

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Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ramped up the pressure on Italy's banking sector, urging lenders to speed up delivery of state-backed loans to businesses paralysed by a nationwide lockdown to counter the coronavirus.

[ROME] Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ramped up the pressure on Italy's banking sector, urging lenders to speed up delivery of state-backed loans to businesses paralysed by a nationwide lockdown to counter the coronavirus.

"The banking system is making a contribution, but it can and must do more to accelerate procedures to deliver state-backed loans," Mr Conte said in a speech to the lower house of parliament. "The liquidity decree allows for guaranteed loans to be delivered in 24 hours, especially for requests under 25,000 euros (S$38,770)."

Mr Conte's government and banks have been blaming each other for delays in guaranteeing liquidity to companies, as more than two months of containment measures weigh on the economy. The European Commission forecasts Italy's output will shrink 9.5 per cent this year, while Bloomberg Economics expects a 13 per cent contraction.

Mr Conte's remarks sparked loud protests in the chamber from opposition politicians, who've claimed the government has created needless red tape holding up the loans. Ruling coalition lawmakers sought to drown out the shouting by clapping during the premier's speech.

In most cases it's the banks that are failing to deliver funds rapidly, Mr Conte said. "We cannot tolerate that companies are deprived of the money necessary to guarantee the continuation of their activity."

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Italy, the original European epicentre of the virus, saw a further easing of the lockdown from Monday, when most shops, bars and restaurants were allowed to reopen with social distancing rules and Italians were freed to travel inside their home regions.

Mr Conte on Thursday said "the worst is behind us", but warned Italians, particularly young people, against congregating in groups outdoors, pointing to the risk of new outbreaks.

"It remains crucial when we are outdoors to respect social distancing rules and where necessary to use masks," Mr Conte said in parliament. "This isn't the time for parties, or nightlife or groups, we need to be careful."

Starting May 25, Italy will start offering free serological tests to a volunteer sampling of 150,000 citizens, the premier said. Italy registered a continued decline in new coronavirus cases Wednesday, with officials reporting 665 cases. Total cases now stand at 227,364.

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