ROME – The European Union (EU) recovery fund should kick off as soon as in January to provide the necessary relief to the European economies hit by the COVID-19 crisis, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte urged on Tuesday.

“In the European Council a few days ago, we restated our expectation that the Next Generation EU program, as well as the Multiannual Financial Framework, could start by Jan 1, 2021,” Conte told a press conference after meeting his Spanish counterpart Pedro Sanchez in Rome.

“We need our economies to restart, our citizens cannot wait longer,” Conte said.

Conte referred to the 1,824-billion-euro ($2,160 billion) long-term EU budget 2021-2027 which includes the Next Generation EU package of 750-billion-euro recovery fund that EU leaders agreed on in late July as a comprehensive response to the economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus emergency.

The Italian prime minister stressed that only a European response could allow the bloc’s economies to relaunch.

Addressing the joint press conference, the Spanish prime minister noted that Spain and Italy together represented an effective force within the EU, and should further strengthen their collaboration in this regard.

The bilateral talks came as Italy registered 10,874 new cases on Tuesday. The country has so far reported 434,449 COVID-19 cases, including 142,739 active infections, 255,005 recoveries and 36,705 fatalities.

On Sunday, the cabinet issued new restrictions on social life, while major experts from the scientific committee and the Higher Health Council which give advice to the government stressed the key role of a comprehensive testing strategy in this second wave of the pandemic.

The experts also suggested that, considering the current race in research and development, a vaccine could be available in the country as early as in spring for those most vulnerable and most exposed to the virus such as health workers.

As the world is struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, countries including Italy, France, China, Russia, Britain and the United States are racing to find a vaccine. According to the website of the World Health Organization, as of Oct. 19, there were 198 COVID-19 candidate vaccines being developed worldwide, and 44 of them were in clinical trials.

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