Post-summer COVID news: President says Italy needs ‘collective effort’ to deal with COVID-19

**This article is continuously updated with the latest developments.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella said that “a collective effort is needed” to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our society is paying an extremely high price for this situation, so we need to work together with businesses and society to enact a plan to help a sustainable recovery for the country”, said the president.

“The battle [against COVID-19 is not yet won. We still need to pay maximum attention”, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has warned, as the new measures are being discussed before they are to be enforced with a decree.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza also recalled that “we are experiencing an increase in the number of infections, that is affecting the whole country without distinction, as opposed to the first wave, which was highly localised”.

“The mandatory use of facemasks outside is being discussed in those situations where there is the possibility to get in contact with people outside of the family group,” he added.

A new set of anti-coronavirus measures

The Italian government is working on a new set of anti-coronavirus measures to be included into a decree. Not only does the government want to make the use of face masks mandatory outdoors, but it also wants to impose earlier closing hours on bars and allow fewer people to gather at private meetings.

“We exclude the possibility of a new lockdown”, said Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri. “However, for this to be possible we have to limit infections. As such, we will be extra careful in containing the virus”, he added.

As part of the new set of measures currently being considered by the government, regional administrations could be prohibited from enforcing less restrictive anti-coronavirus measures than the ones issued by the government, regardless of the current state of infections.

While governors could – if necessary – adopt stricter measures, they will not be able to adopt region or sector-specific relaxations as was the case with discos in the summer.

Schools to stay open

As “cases in schools” are still “sustainable”, these will remain open for now, said Health Minister Roberto Speranza. This is despite the average number of daily COVID-19 cases having increased to about 2,500 in Italy last week.

“We are talking too much about football and too little about school”, said Speranza, referring to the suspension of the Italian football league due to several COVID-19 cases spreading in some football teams.

“We don’t have the number of infections in other countries, but we are still dealing with an increase in cases”, said the health minister, noting that “the use of facemasks is absolutely essential”.

The Italian government is considering enforcing earlier closing hours for bars and pubs, as well as the mandatory use of face masks outdoors.

State of emergency extended

Italy’s state of emergency could be extended until 31 January 2021, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte confirmed on 1 October, adding that he “will ask parliament for the extension.”

Health Minister Roberto Speranza added that “everyone will have to resist the best they can for the next seven to eight months. We will see the light in the first months of 2021”.

Recovery Fund – an opportunity and ‘must-win challenge’

“The recovery from this pandemic situation is a must-win challenge, which we can succeed at only if we work together”, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told Italian industry representatives during the Confindustria Assembly on 29 September.

“We’ll enact a new normative instrument for our recovery and resilience plan. We need a specific structure that guarantees transparency and a certain timing”, the prime minister added.

The Italian plan on how to spend the resources of the EU Recovery Fund is on track to be presented to the European Commission on time, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told Italy’s farmers’ trade union Confagricoltura on 28 September during its centenary celebration.

“There is a misleading debate in the press that brings up unfounded worries. We are not late with our plan: the government is already analysing the projects, starting with the agriculture sector”, the prime minister added.

According to Confindustria leader Carlo Bonomi, “all actions and policies in the next few years need to be focused on maximising the role of  businesses and work systems so they become catalysts for development,” noting the need for “a new and comprehensive reform of the social safety.”

According to Bank of Italy governor Ignazio Visco, the EU Recovery Fund would be an ideal means to bolster the country’s education rather than the EU bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).

“The only condition is to use these funds for the specific sector they have been allocated to. I don’t really see a problem in using ESM funds, except maybe for the stigma attached to them, which is only due to their misuse or miscommunication”, Visco concluded.

Increase in COVID-19 cases should be ‘manageable’

“New cases will continue to arise, but the increase in infections will be manageable,” said Italy’s vice-minister for health Pierpaolo Sileri in an interview on 22 September.

“When the term ‘second wave’ is used, panic arises. However, it will not be as severe as the one in February and March because we are more prepared now”, he added.

Sileri addressed the situation in hospitals, noting that these are far more prepared with the new safety protocols in place. Actually, the minister is “more worried about family reunions and dinners with friends, because many people still think they never contracted the virus”.

During the interview, Sileri also called for “pan-European guidelines” to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases coming from abroad. “Gradually, all countries will experience another rise in infections until we get a vaccine. So we have to enforce controls at airports or to mandate tests two or three days before departing,” he added.

“I am in favour of a gradual reopening, with safety measures in force: mandatory facemasks, distancing and then we can slowly let more and more people in. It’s clear that it is too soon for a complete reopening,” said Sileri.

Back to school!

On 14 September, 5.6 million of a total of 8.3 million Italian students for the 2020-2021 school year returned to school after Prime Minister Giueseppe Conte had previously assured students and teachers that the school year would start regularly on 14 September – though school started on 7 September in the province of Bolzano and other regions in Italy, other regions are set to reopen their schools either on 16 September or 24 September.

“Some new rules will apply and quarantine measures for entire classes could be enforced in worst-case scenarios, but overall I recommend to respect the rules and tackle the new year with confidence”, said the prime minister, adding that “we invested €7 billion on schools”.

“We made an effort to be able to distribute more than 11 million face masks daily for students and teachers. 2.5 million new desks have been found in just two months. Some have already been delivered and we plan to finalise the deliveries by the end of October”, Conte said.

According to Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza this makes Italy the “the only country in the world to provide 11 million face masks to students and school personnel.” The minister underlined that surgical masks will be provided, and that their use will be “mandatory when people are moving around” but can be removed “when students are at their desks listening to the teacher” – though this measure will not apply to children under the age of six.

The reopening of schools has, however, caused a few disputes amongst regions, particularly as some regions have considered postponing the start of the school year until after the national referendum, due to be held on 20 and 21 September, on a possible constitutional amendment.

Students had even expressed their discomfort at being forced to wear facemasks at school after Italy’s Scientific Committee issued its latest recommendations at the start of September, with some stating that “it will be a nightmare” when the school year officially starts.

While some are worried about a new lockdown, others preferred to continue distance learning as it made them feel “safer”.

On 14 September, the PM went so far as to admit that “schools have structural difficulties that have been in place for years, the pandemic situation has only brought them up again.”

In the region of Piedmont, students will have their body temperature measures before they enter schools, Piedmont President, Alberto Cirio has stated via a regional decree. Although the government had requested the decision to be suspended, Piedmont’s regional administrative court had rejected the government’s request.

“I’m sorry that the government decided to go against our decisions, rather than consider us a model to follow”, said Cirio. “The decision to measure the temperature before entering schools is aimed at guaranteeing the safety of our citizens, introducing another level of control to ensure the health of our children, personnel and elderly is protected”, he added.

University students also return

The majority of universities in Italy will reopen, confirmed University and Research Minister Gaetano Manfredi. Half the lessons will be held in-person, while the other will be held remotely.

“First-year students will be favoured when it comes to in-person teaching because they need stronger guidance,” said the minister.

“Face masks will be mandatory during lessons, as the number of students is still high”, said Manfredi. “There hasn’t been a significant decrease in the number of enrolled students,” he added, noting that “this gives hope for the future.”

Manfredi also confirmed that university exams will be held with the students present as of  September, but the choice of using a mixed system will still be open to faculties and professors.

Study halls and university libraries have also reopened.

Recovery plan includes six key ‘missions’

A 30-page document outlining Italy’s recovery plan will be discussed by Italy’s interministerial committee on European affairs on 9 September.

Six key “missions”, including digitalisation and innovation, the green transition, health, sustainable infrastructures, education and research, as well as social and territorial inclusion, are highlighted in the document.

Under the plan, Italy intends to pump more money into the health sector by using a lot of resources from the recovery fund, particularly as it intends to have more intensive care units (ICUs) across the country.

As for the “long term social-economic goals”, the government hopes to double the economic growth rate, in order to bring it to the same level as the EU average of 1.6%.

Another total lockdown repeating that seen during the first wave of COVID-19 in Italy is “out of the question”, Italy’s foreign minister Luigi Di Maio has said, adding that Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had “excluded the possibility too.”

“The measures we will have to take depend on the responsibility of Italians. We are one of the countries with the lowest amount of daily infections and this is thanks to the responsibility of Italian people”, Di Maio said.

“We will have to make some more sacrifices regarding social distancing and facemasks, so that more drastic measures will not be necessary”, he added.

Health measures

The so-called ‘Oxford vaccine’ developed by Astrazeneca could be distributed by the end of 2020 if everything goes according to plan, Italy’s Health Minsiter Roberto Speranza has said. Read more.

Meanwhile, he also said that Italy will be “the only country in the world to provide 11 million face masks to students and school personnel”.

The minister underlined that surgical masks will be provided,and that their use will be “mandatory when people are moving around” but can be removed “when students are at their desks listening to the teacher”.

Children under the age of 6 will not be required to wear face masks when at school.

Speranza also urged young people to respect anti-coronavirus measures, noting, in particular, that the average age of people infected with COVID-19 now lies at 29 years of age and has been “constantly descending”.

Agreement for mandatory testing

Italy’s government is working on an agreement with Paris to impose COVID-19 testing on tourists and workers returning from France and is looking to do the same with Spain as cases are rising there too.

As the agreement with Paris should provide for reciprocity, tests will be carried out at the border, both inbound and outbound.

“There is already a discussion with the French government initiated by Health Minister Roberto Speranza. The topic of reciprocity is being evaluated. Not only with France, as it is also being imagined with Spain. I believe that this could be a choice that protects people”, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Health, Sandra Zampa, told broadcaster RaiNews 24.

Italy mulls mandatory COVID-19 testing with France, Spain

In today’s edition of the Capitals, find out more about German right-wing extremists storming the country’s Reichstag building, Montenegro’s national election results, and so much more.

[Edited by Natasha Foote, Alexandra Brzozowski, Gerardo Fortuna, Vlagyiszlav Makszimov, Daniel Eck]

→ Read more on the measures taken before summer break here:

Italy extends anti-coronavirus decree until end of July

The EURACTIV Network provides you with the latest news on how the country is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis.

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