To deal with declining birth rate in Italy, the health minister proposed increasing financial incentives to couples. Beatrice Lorenzin warned that fall in childbirths indicate "an apocalypse."

The minister reportedly wants to double the standard baby bonus of €80 (£63, $90) per month for low-to-middle income families and extend the benefits to more needy children. She also proposed introducing higher payments for second and subsequent children to encourage couples to have more children, the French edition of The Local reported. The health department estimated that the proposed allowances would add €2.2bn to public spending over six years.

Currently, the baby bonus is awarded for children born between 1 January 2015 and 31 December 2017, up to their third birthdays. Lorenzin now wants to cover all babies born up until the end of 2020 under the policy, which was introduced in 2015 to tackle the declining child birth rate in the country.

"In five years we have lost more than 66,000 births (per year) — that is the equivalent of a city the size of Siena," Lorenzin reportedly said in an interview to Italian daily La Repubblica. "If we link this to the increasing number of old and chronically ill people, we have a picture of a moribund country," she was quoted as saying.

She further warned that the trend, unless reversed, would mean "fewer than 350,000 births a year in 10 years' time, 40 percent less than in 2010 — an apocalypse."

The policy excludes children belonging to families with taxable earnings of more than €25,000 per year. Families with less than €7,000 in annual income are considered poorest and thus, paid the allowances at higher rates. She proposed that the payment for second and subsequent children be €240 per month for average families and €400 per month for the poorest.

Lorenzin said Italian couples will have to understand that delaying pregnancy up to 35 years of age and beyond makes it difficult to have children.