ROME (Reuters) - Italian President Sergio Mattarella, taking aim at British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for suggesting his country was more freedom loving than others, said on Thursday that Italy loved freedom, but was also serious.
Johnson told parliament in London 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.
Asked about the comment during a visit to Sardinia, Mattarella said: "We Italians also love freedom, but we also care about seriousness."
The highly discreet president was asked about Johnson during a private conversation, but his words were swiftly reported in the local media and his office confirmed the remarks.
Britain this week imposed fresh restrictions to try to stamp out a fast-spreading second wave of COVID-19 in the country, with government 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 contagion in February, has seen new cases tick higher in recent weeks -- but has so far managed to avoid a renewed surge.
Asked in parliament why Britain's figures were worse than Germany and Italy, Johnson said: "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...It is very difficult to ask the British population uniformly to obey guidelines in the way that is necessary."
The United Kingdom has the highest official COVID-19 death toll in Europe of some 41,862. Italy is the second-worst affected with 35,758 deaths recorded to date.
(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Gavin Jones)