Prime Minister of Italy Giuseppe Conte has promised his fellow citizens this past Sunday that they would soon be able to take a walk in the park and visit relatives as their country comes out of the world’s longest COVID-19 lockdown.
The Italian leader also stated his intent to open schools in time for the next school year in September and most other businesses within the next three weeks. However, he warned that people would still have to wear face masks in public places and strictly observe social distancing measures when the current restrictions are lifted on May 4.
Italian people are used to displays of physical affection like hugs and handshakes, but that will be strongly discouraged. Under the new guidelines
“Italy is entering an era of responsibility and coexistence with the virus,” Conte said during the televised address. “If you love Italy, keep your distance from others.”
Many Italians are fearing that one of their favorite pastimes, Serie A football, will go the route the Belgian Premier Division A or Dutch Eredivisie and that the season will be declared completely null and void. Football is under significant scrutiny due to a Champions League match in February being considered one of the catalysts for the entire epidemic and those in charge aren’t in a rush to bring it back.
After his announcement, Conte had a busy weekend of talks with regional business leaders with the goal of determining how a 60 million strong nation will come out of the worst crisis since the Second World War.
As of April 26, Italy’s official COVID-19 death toll is 26,644 and it puts them in the number one spot in Europe. On the positive side, 260 deaths are the lowest single-day toll since March 14. Another encouraging development is the contagion rate which has been reported at between 0.2 and 0.7. This is well below the key threshold of 1.0 which could be enough to try and get back to work.
“We cannot continue beyond this lockdown – we risk damaging the country’s socioeconomic fabric too much,” said Conte and adding a warning that the damage “could be irreversible.”
Italy closed everything down in early March when it became obvious that the initial wave of cases in Lombardy was spreading. This action raised some eyebrows worldwide at first, but a lot of countries soon followed suit when the pandemic showed its teeth. Many considered even this to be a late response as there are reports from scientists stating that Italy’s first case happened much earlier than the official January 31 and that the epidemic was in full motion by the time of first official death on February 21.
Harrowing videos from hospitals in northern Italy shook the world, but their health care system stood firm and Conte seems to feel it’s safe enough to focus on fixing the economy which is expected to dip by eight percent this year.
- April 27: a select group of “strategic” importance like manufacturers and construction companies will be allowed to resume their operations, but with strict security protocols in workplaces.
- May 4: Wholesale stores will be able to resume their business and restaurants will be open for takeout only.
- May 25: All other shops will open – as will national museums and libraries. Sports teams will be allowed to resume group training.
- June 1: Barbershops will open and restaurants will be allowed to offer dine-in service.
- September: Schools will reopen.
Schools in Italy were first to close – ahead of many businesses and will now probably be the last segment of daily life allowed to resume. Conte said the return to school carries much danger because many of the older teachers are at greater risk of contracting the virus.
“Schools are at the center of our attention and will reopen in September,” the premier said. He added that resuming the school year before then would have “a very high risk of contagion.”
A major concern for a lot of Italians appears to be when they would be able to finally walk in parks or jog without being stopped and written-up by the police. When the first stay-at-home orders were announced nationally on March 9 requiring everyone to stay within 200 meters of their residency, many have turned to their roofs and balconies for physical and social activities in a group effort to avoid cabin fever.
Conte explained that outdoor exercise will be allowed again next Monday and even visits to the relatives – but with conditions.
“We will allow people to visit relatives, but only if they respect the distance and wear masks,” said Conte before adding that there “will be no (large) family gatherings.”
Face masks are also compulsory in closed public places and on public transport.