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Coronavirus: Italy carefully reopens for business

Restaurants, shops and museums are now allowed to reopen in Italy, under certain conditions. For many business owners, the new rules remain too difficult to operate under.

Many restaurants, shops, churches, and museums cautiously reopened across Italy on Monday, as the first country to be overrun by the coronavirus pandemic outside of China began emerging from months of lockdown. However, strict hygiene and physical distancing measures remain in place and Italians are still not allowed to leave the region they live in.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte compared the process to “relearning how to walk,” in a letter written to the free newspaper Leggo.

“One step at a time, with caution and attention, so as to avoid falling and going back. Italy will start running again,” Conte wrote.

In a country where so much of life is conducted outside, the public squares and parks of Italy have seemed eerily quite the past few weeks. The loss of revenue from travelers and shuttered restaurants and cafes have been devastating to the economy where 10% of GDP is based on tourism.

After announcing the lockdown in mid-March, the government allowed some restaurants to reopen for takeaway service two weeks ago. As of Monday, table service is permitted again — with the caveat that all groups of customers are kept at least 1 meter away from each other and that staff observe the new hygiene regulations. Some restaurants said they were considering installing plexiglass between tables in order to better separate customers.

Conditions too much for some restaurant owners

However, for many cafe operators, particularly in smaller spaces, the new rules seem impossible to follow. Italian retailers’ association Confcommercio estimated that about 30 percent of restaurants and cafes would have to remain shut.

While some museums and monuments, like St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, have reopened their doors, the Roman Colosseum has chosen to remain shut for the time being as it plans how to deal with possible crowds. In 2019, the Colosseum was the most popular tourist attraction in the world, and saw some 7.4 million visitors.

The reopening of shops was welcomed by many, with a long line forming to enter Milan’s high-end La Rinascente department store. Although that may also have been because the store is requiring customers submit to a temperature reading before entering to make sure they do not have a fever.

Besides commercial activity, Italy has also reopened its beaches. It is planning to allow citizens to move between regions, as well as restart unlimited international travel on June 3.

Despite a downturn in cases of new infections and fatality rates, some have questioned the wisdom of fully reopening the economy in case there is a second wave of the pandemic. 

On the other hand, said Massimo Galli, the leading expert in infectious diseases at Milan’s Sacco hospital in an interview with La Repubblica daily, “we must give it a try. People are fed up with being at home, many businesses risk dying.”

es/msh (dpa, AP)

(DW)