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The rushed easing of lockdown measures could devastate Italy

20 15 32

When the novel coronavirus began spreading across the world earlier this year, Italy quickly became one of Europe's worst-affected countries and went into lockdown. Schools, shops, leisure centres and churches were swiftly shut and all Italians were told to remain indoors as much as possible.

On May 4, as the number of new COVID-19 cases started to fall, the country moved to gradually ease the lockdown restrictions that kept 60 million Italians at home for nearly two months and devastated the economy.

At first, the central government was firmly in control and determined to ensure that the restart of the economy would not take place at the expense of human lives. The manufacturing sector and wholesale retailers were allowed to resume their activities, but many other businesses that require close human contact to function, such as hairdressers and gyms, were told to remain shut.

Within two weeks, however, many of the safety measures initially put in place to guarantee a safe, gradual and calculated reopening were scrapped. Rome buckled under pressure from regional governments that warned against the negative effect that a too strict approach to safety could have on economic recovery, and took steps to guarantee the speedy resumption of all business activities. The recommendations for the safe reopening of businesses were significantly diluted, and regional governments were allowed to use a considerable degree of discretion in their implementation.

On May 18, retail shops, cafes, restaurants, hairdressers and barber shops, museums, leisure centres, and other businesses were told that they can now reopen as long as they follow the recently updated - and significantly softened - safety measures. Restrictions over home visits to friends and neighbours were also lifted. Moreover, it was announced that travel between regions and to and from the country will be allowed from June 3, in the hopes that it would help revive the country's moribund tourism industry.

In other words, the government told the Italian people that they can return to a certain degree of normalcy, as long as they follow social distancing measures and other basic safety rules such as wearing face masks on public transport and in closed public spaces.

All this led to fears that Italy may be trying to reopen its economy too quickly, before taking the necessary precautions to prevent a second outbreak.

Many have criticised the government for not taking decisive steps towards mass testing, contact tracing and isolation - the three........

© Al Jazeera