Italy to shut all non-strategic business activities until April 3 - PM Conte

ROME, March 21 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Saturday that all Italian businesses must close until April 3, with the exception of those essential to maintaining the country's supply chain, in the latest desperate effort to halt the coronavirus epidemic.

Italy recorded a jump in deaths from the virus of almost 800 on Saturday, taking the toll in the world's hardest-hit country to almost 5,000.

"It is the most difficult crisis in our post-war period," Conte said in a video posted on Facebook, adding that "only production activities deemed vital for national production will be allowed".

Supermarkets, pharmacies, postal and banking services will remain open, Conte said, and essential public services including transport will be ensured.

"We are slowing down the country's production engine but we are not stopping it," he said.

The government is expected to publish an emergency decree on Sunday to make the latest crackdown immediately effective. (Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni, editing by Gavin Jones)