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A construction site near the Colosseum in Rome SIPA USA/PA Images
opening up

Italy begins easing world's longest country-wide coronavirus lockdown

It comes after the country reported its lowest toll since 10 March yesterday.

ITALIANS WILL BE allowed to visit relatives for the first time in nine weeks today as the country eases back the world’s longest nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

Four million people will return to construction sites and factories this morning as the economically and emotionally shattered country attempts to get itself back to work.

Restaurants that have managed to survive Italy’s most disastrous crisis in generations are also set to reopen for takeaway service.

But bars and even ice cream parlours will remain shut in the European country hit hardest by the virus.

The use of public transport will be discouraged and everyone will have to wear masks in indoor public spaces.

It comes after the country reported 174 new coronavirus deaths on Sunday, its lowest toll since 168 fatalities were registered when the country’s stay-at-home orders were imposed on 10 March.

“We are feeling a mix of joy and fear,” 40-year-old Stefano Milano said in Rome.

“There will be great happiness in being able to go running again carefree, in my son being allowed to have his little cousin over to blow out his birthday candles, to see our parents,” the father-of-three said.

“But we are also apprehensive because they are old and my father-in-law has cancer so is high risk”.

‘Moment of responsibility’

Italy became the first Western democracy to shut down this year, with almost every business closing over the virus, which has now officially killed 28,884 people there.

The lives of Italians began closing in around them as it became increasingly apparent that the first batch of infections in provinces around Milan were multiplying elsewhere.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte began by putting a quarter of the population in the northern industrial heartland on lockdown on 8 March.

daily-life-amid-covid-19-pandemic-lockdown-in-italy A tourist rides by bicycle front of a Roman amphitheater Boldrini Maurilio / Eyepix/ABACA Boldrini Maurilio / Eyepix/ABACA / Eyepix/ABACA

The sudden measure frightened many – fearful of being locked in together with the gathering threat – into fleeing to less affected regions further south.

But the danger of the virus spreading with them and incapacitating the south’s less developed health care system forced Conte to announce a nationwide lockdown the following day.

“Today is our moment of responsibility,” Conte told the nation. “We cannot let our guard down.”

The official death toll was then 724. More waves of restrictions followed as hundreds began dying each day.

Almost everything except for pharmacies and grocery stores were closed on 12 March, before all non-essential factories closed on 22 March. Italy’s highest single toll – 969 – was reported five days later.

‘Worried about reopening’

The economic toll of those shutdowns has been historic. Italy’s economy – the eurozone’s third-largest last year – is expected to shrink more than in any year since the global depression of the 1930s.

Half of the country’s workforce is receiving state support and the same number told one polling company that they were afraid of becoming unemployed.

Conte’s popularity has jumped along with that of most of other world leaders grappling with the pandemic thanks to a rally around the flag effect.

But a Demos poll conducted at the end of April found some of that popularity fading.

Italy’s staggered reopening is complicated by a highly decentralised system that allows the country’s 20 regions to impose their own rules.

Venice’s Veneto and the southern Calabria regions have already begun serving food and drink at bars and restaurants with outdoor seating.

The area around Genoa is thinking of allowing small groups of people to go sailing and reopening its beaches. But neighbouring Emilia-Romagna is keeping them closed – even to those who live by the sea.

All this uncertainty appears to be weighing on the nation’s psyche.

A poll by the Piepoli Institute showed 62 percent of Italians think they will need psychological support with coming to grips with the post-lockdown world. 

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