Italy’s president is expected to ask Mario Draghi, former president of the European Central Bank, to begin talks to form a new national unity government in Italy as the country battles the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Draghi, one of Italy’s most highly regarded public officials and a leader credited with taking decisive action during the eurozone debt crisis, will meet President Sergio Mattarella on Wednesday, the Italian head of state’s office said.

The unexpected decision came after talks on Tuesday broke down over rebuilding the disparate coalition government led by Giuseppe Conte that collapsed last month.

Mr Mattarella, who as head of state is the supreme arbiter in Italian politics with the sole power to call general elections, said in an address that if a new government could not be formed, the country would be forced into a snap vote at a time of great uncertainty.

“I have the duty to emphasise that the long period of electoral campaigning, and the resulting reduction of government activity, would coincide with a crucial moment for the fate of Italy,” Mr Mattarella said.

Italy has suffered more than 88,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19 as well as the economic consequences of public health measures taken to contain the virus.

Mr Conte’s coalition collapsed last month after it lost its majority in the Italian upper house following the resignation of a small party led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi, who attacked the government’s handling of the pandemic and economic recovery spending plans.

Mr Mattarella’s decision to charge Mr Draghi with forming a technocratic government prompted anger among Italy’s rightwing opposition, which had called for new elections after Mr Conte’s coalition lost its majority.

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the rightwing Brothers of Italy party, said a technocratic government “born in a laboratory” would not be “the solution to the serious health, economic and social problems of the nation”.

“In an advanced democracy, citizens are masters of their own destiny through their vote,” she said.

Andrea Orlando, deputy leader of the centre-left Democratic party which formed part of Mr Conte’s coalition, warned after the news that Mr Draghi had been summoned by the Italian president that it would not be easy to construct a cross-party agreement.

“If it was difficult to put together four political parties that had taken a journey together, it will not be easy to put together political forces that have not done, and will not do anything together,” he said on Italian television.

If Mr Draghi manages to forge a government of national unity, he will become prime minister at a time when Italy faces its greatest economic crisis since the second world war, and is drawing up crucial plans to spend €200bn in European Union recovery money to repair the damage caused by the pandemic.

Mr Draghi, a former governor of the Bank of Italy, ended his term as president of the European Central Bank in 2019 after seeing the single currency through the most severe financial crisis in its history.

His pledge to do “whatever it takes” in 2012 to keep the single currency together was hailed as a pivotal moment in restoring market confidence in the eurozone at a time of intense concern that spiralling public borrowing costs for countries such as Greece and Italy risked breaking it apart.

Additional reporting Davide Ghiglione in Rome