Italy’s phase two: what (not) to do

After Europe’s longest lockdown, Italy has entered its much-anticipated phase two on May 4th but it seems only few will have reason to celebrate.

All non-essential activities were banned and severe restrictions on people’s movement were imposed in Italy as early as March 10th, to contain the virus and avoid the risk of overwhelming the National Health System. On April 26th, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, in a video message to the nation, outlined his plan to slowly ease quarantine causing millions to express their anger and disappointment at what became labelled a “false reopening”.

Phase two has been presented as ‘coexistence with the virus’, meaning that people will be able to move within their region of residence to visit family or go to work, and many activities allowed to restart. Conte’s plan was predictable: the lifting of the lockdown, however gradual, must simultaneously involve the areas of production and of social life. After all, market rules teach us there is no significant movement of goods without the movement of people.

What Italians contested was the set of criteria used by the government to formulate cans and can’ts in the new phase. Only export-oriented manufacturing and public sector construction activities reopened on 4th May, leaving many small and medium-sized private sector businesses still at high risk of shutdown. Freedom of movement is still limited to essential activities, such as shopping for groceries or medical supplies, with the sole addition of visiting family members within the same region.

The decision to limit individual contacts to blood relatives alone has been sharply criticised by the public. Many emphasized how the choice of the state to prioritize blood ties is the expression of a backward and familial conception of social life, typical of Italian institutions. As a result of this criticism, the government decided to extend visit permission to all people that constitute “stable relationships”. A vague concept that makes law enforcement much harder.  The Prime Minister has explicitly said that “the success of the second phase rests upon Italians’ common sense”.  

Other changes involve the reopening of public parks – daily exercise is now allowed, provided that it is done alone and in full respect of social distancing – and the food sector, within bars and restaurants set to reopen to serve takeaway and delivery food.

Thus, Italy’s second phase is intended to look like the UK’s current ‘first’ phase of containment. The country is still far from the ‘phase two’ model set by China, where schools and most work activities have been reopened for weeks, although with strict rules of hygiene and social distancing. And this is what ultimately annoyed Italians, worn out by eight weeks of seclusion.

Other measures, however, are certainly understandable. For instance, the price of face masks has been capped at 50 cents, to make it easier for companies and shops to ensure respect for the rules that will grant their reopening.

Overall, the Italian government has been willing to negotiate. Regardless of its success, Italy’s second phase will set the precedent on the basis of which other countries could – and should – start to outline their strategies. 

 

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