Italy's president hits back at Boris Johnson over Covid-19 'freedom' remarks

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Italy‘s president has hit back at Prime Minister Boris Johnson after he suggested the UK had higher coronavirus infection rates than its European counterpart because it was a more “freedom-loving country”.

Sergio Mattarella said on Thursday that Italy’s citizens “also love freedom, but we also care about seriousness” in an apparent rebuke of Mr Johnson’s comments earlier this week.

The Prime Minister told Parliament on Tuesday that Britain had a worse coronavirus infection rate than nations like Italy and Germany because it was a “freedom-loving country” which therefore resisted social restrictions to curb the disease.

“There is an important difference between our country and many other countries around the world and that is our country is a freedom-loving country,” he said.

“If we look at the history of this country over the past 300 years, virtually every advance, from free speech to democracy, has come from this country.

“It is very difficult to ask the British population uniformly to obey guidelines in the way that is necessary.”

The UK government this week imposed fresh restrictions to try to stamp out a fast-spreading second wave of Covid-19, with scientists warning there could be 50,000 new cases per day by mid-October without fresh curbs.

Italy, which was the first country in Europe to be hit by the coronavirus pandemic in February, has seen new cases tick higher in recent weeks – but has so far managed to avoid a renewed surge.

The UK has the highest official Covid-19 death toll in Europe, with 41,902. Italy is the second-worst affected with 35,781 deaths recorded to date.