Italy registered 36,176 new cases of the virus and 653 deaths over the previous 24 hours, with the northern Lombardy region, centred on the financial capital Milan, once again bearing the bulk of the contagion.

Many Italian regions are under partial lockdown to try to curb the outbreak, with restrictions due to stay in place until at least December 3.

Shopkeepers and restaurateurs are pinning their hopes on the reopening of businesses around the normally busy festive period to revive their battered fortunes, but Conte said in a speech that there would be no return to normal anytime soon.

“We must be prepared to spend the festivities in a more sober way,” he said.

“Big parties, kisses and hugs will not be possible; common sense in needed.

“A week of unrestrained social interaction would mean an abrupt rise in the [infection] curve in January.

“However, I think we can still exchange gifts and help the economy grow.”

Regional Affairs Minister Francesco Boccia, echoed Conte’s sentiment, declaring that Christmas should be celebrated only among “the closest family members”.

Italy has recorded almost 50,000 deaths since its coronavirus outbreak emerged in February, the second highest toll in Europe after Britain’s.

It has also recorded more than one million cases of the virus.

Daily deaths have more than doubled in November by comparison with October, hitting a high of 753 on Wednesday.

Italy managed to contain the first wave of infections in spring thanks to a strict nationwide lockdown between March and April, and removed most restrictions before summer as cases steadily decreased.

However, autumn has seen a resurgence of infections and while the initial outbreak was largely confined to the north, the second wave has hit almost every region hard, stretching the healthcare system to breaking point and raising concerns over what a second nationwide lockdown would mean for the economy.