Coronavirus: Italy’s PM outlines lockdown easing measures

Coronavirus: Italy’s PM outlines lockdown easing measures

Italian Guardia di Finanza officers wearing protective face masks man a checkpoint between Corvetto and Rogoredo in MilanImage copyright
EPA

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Italy imposed strict restrictions seven weeks ago to curb the spread of the coronavirus

Italy has outlined plans to ease the restrictions it imposed seven weeks ago to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the measures would be relaxed from 4 May, with people being allowed to visit their relatives in small numbers.

Parks, factories and building sites will reopen, but schools will not restart classes until September.

Roman Catholic bishops have written to Mr Conte to protest against the continued ban on church services.

It comes as the country recorded its lowest number of new confirmed cases since the outbreak began.

There were 333 new virus-related deaths on Monday, a slight rise on the 260 recorded on Sunday, to a total of 26,977 – still the highest recorded toll in Europe.

But the number of new cases was at its lowest since 10 March, and the number of people in intensive care also dropped.

Authorities now believe the contagion rate – the amount of people each person with the virus infects – is low enough to justify a cautious easing of curbs.

Other countries like Switzerland and Spain are also relaxing their measures.

What has been announced?

Speaking on television on Sunday, Mr Conte outlined how the country would begin “Phase Two” of lifting its coronavirus lockdown. The measures include:

  • People will be allowed to move around their own regions – but not between different regions
  • Funerals are set to resume, but with a maximum of 15 people attending, and ideally to be carried out outdoors
  • Individual athletes can resume training, and people can do sports not only in the vicinity of their homes but in wider areas
  • Bars and restaurants will reopen for takeaway service from 4 May – not just delivery as now – but food must be consumed at home or in an office
  • Hairdressers, beauty salons, bars and restaurants are expected to reopen for dine-in service from 1 June
  • More retail shops not already opened under the earliest easing measures will reopen on 18 May along with museums and libraries
  • Sports teams will also be able to hold group training from 18 May

There was no announcement on the possibility of Italy’s premier football league Serie A resuming, even behind closed doors.

Mr Conte stressed that social distancing measures would need to continue for months to come, and said church services would remain banned. He urged people to stay a metre (3ft) away from each other.

“If we do not respect the precautions the curve will go up, the deaths will increase, and we will have irreversible damage to our economy,” the prime minister said. “If you love Italy, keep your distance.”

He also said his government would cap the price of face masks at 50 cents ($0.54; £0.44).

In a letter to the prime minister, a group representing Roman Catholic bishops in Italy warned that they could “not accept seeing the exercise of freedom of religion being compromised”.

The bishops argued that the government and its scientific advisers should concentrate on giving precise sanitary guidelines and leave it to the Church to implement them autonomously.

Equal Opportunities and Family Minister Elena Bonetti also spoke out against the ban.

“So, we can safely visit a museum but we can’t celebrate a religious service? This decision is incomprehensible. It must be changed,” she tweeted.

Mr Conte said in his address on Sunday: “I understand that freedom of worship is a fundamental people’s right. I understand your suffering. But we must continue discussing this further with the scientific committee.”

What is the background?

Italians have been living under a national stay-at-home order since 9 March, with everyone required to remain within a few streets of their door.

The country brought in very limited easing of its virus control measures on 14 April, permitting some small shops – including bookstores, dry cleaners and stationers – to reopen. The businesses chosen were deemed to be lower risk as they rarely attract crowds.

This is a roadmap to reopening for a country that has endured hell, but it could take years for it to recover, the BBC’s Mark Lowen in Rome reports.

If infections show an increase again, the government will have powers to intervene to reintroduce certain restrictions, our correspondent adds.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionThe mental health toll as Italians struggle to cope with Europe’s strictest and longest-running lockdown

What is happening elsewhere?

Spain – the European country with the highest number of deaths after Italy – reported its lowest daily death toll in more than five weeks on Sunday, with 288 new fatalities. On Sunday, children could go outside for the first time in six weeks.

In Switzerland, garden centres and hairdressers will open their doors on Monday, followed by schools and shops selling items other than food in two weeks’ time.

But gatherings of more than five people remain banned until 8 June, and it is unclear when bars and restaurants will be allowed to reopen.

In neighbouring Germany, facemasks have become mandatory in public transport. The new rules have created huge demand for the product and, as a result, a growing shortage, so the government is planning to manufacture millions of masks in Germany.

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson returns to work on Monday, after recovering from the virus. Mr Johnson spent a week in hospital, including three nights in intensive care, after being admitted on 5 April.

In the US, where more than 54,000 deaths and over 940,000 cases have been confirmed, Tennessee, Colorado and Montana joined four other states in allowing certain businesses to reopen.

Eight states led by Republican governors – Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming – never issued mandatory stay-at-home orders.

On Sunday for the second day in a row, the White House did not host a coronavirus briefing. And, in a series of tweets, President Donald Trump claimed he was being misrepresented by the media and not given credit for his work.

The president was heavily criticised after suggesting at Thursday’s briefing that disinfectant could potentially be used as a treatment for the virus. He later said he was being sarcastic.

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