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. [Shutterstock]

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

Italy’s government will extend its anti-coronavirus decree until the end of July, Health Minister Roberto Speranza announced on Tuesday (14 July), adding that “the fight against the virus is not finished, we have to be cautious.”

This means that facemasks and quarantine for people from outside the EU will now be mandatory.

“With half a million deaths, we cannot let our guard down. Even scientists agree that we all should wear facemasks, keep the social distance and wash our hands,” he said, pointing to the fact that “there are more than 13 million infected people worldwide.”

On 12 July, Speranza said he will be adopting “maximum caution” as the worldwide infection count reached a new peak on Sunday (12 July), with a total of 220,000 new cases registered.

After Health Minister Speranza announced that “the reopening of schools is the most important issue” and urged for a “constant monitoring of the school personnel,” Italian Education Minister Lucia Azzolina confirmed that schools will reopen on 14 September and new lockdowns would be “out of the question”. Lega leader Matteo Salvini also criticised the situation, stating that not knowing how school will restart just two months before the scheduled date is unacceptable.

Besides, 68% of Italian citizens have said they are worried about their economic situation following the COVID-19 crisis, according to a report conducted by the Italian research institute, Censis.

The number is even higher among women and millennials, 72% of which are worried, as well as for entrepreneurs (76%) and families with lower income (83%).

Meanwhile, the EU’s external borders reopened for citizens of 14 countries as of Wednesday (1 July), Italy has decided to retain voluntary quarantine measures for people coming outside of the Schengen Area with a decree signed by the Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza.

“The global situation is still very difficult. We must ensure that the sacrifices Italians had to endure these past months are not nullified” said Speranza.

However, the list of reasons for foreign citizens to enter the country has been expanded, as it now allows them to enter for reasons of study, work, health and extreme urgency. Tourists from outside the EU are therefore not authorised to enter Italy at the moment.

As of Wednesday (22 July), Italy has reported 244,752 COVID-19 cases, which is 162 more than the day before. There are 35,0737 deaths and about 197,000 recoveries.

‘Quarantine ship’

28 migrants of the 209 currently aboard the so-called ‘quarantine ship’ known as Moby Zazà have tested positive for COVID-19.

The ferry ship, which was rented by the government from Moby Lines to serve as a so-called ‘quarantine ship’ for migrants during the crisis, accommodates those rescued in international waters by Sea Watch and is currently at anchor near Porto Empedocle, Sicily.

“28 migrants were tested positive aboard the quarantine ship in Porto Empedocle, a solution which we deemed necessary to avoid the spread of coronavirus on the island,” said Nello Musumeci, governor of Sicily.

COVID-19 recovery

A series of meetings convened by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte last week to find common ground to help the country recover from the COVID-19 crisis together with trade unions, industry representatives and experts from various sectors ended on 21 June.

According to Conte, the meetings “helped develop a recovery plan that would be in the best interest of everyone”, adding that “we had a straight and direct discussion.”

However, as the PM plans to meet with the opposition before finalising the plan, leaders of Lega and Brothers of Italy, Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni, harshly criticised the notion of a meeting held with experts and industry representatives in a private villa near Rome and demanded discussions with the government to be held in an official setting, like the parliament.

“A VAT reduction has been brought into discussion during the meetings with trade unions and business representatives,” said Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, adding that “we are evaluating the possibility of a temporary reduction, but only for a short period of time.” However, he did note that it would be a “costly measure.”

Meanwhile, Italy’s ruling parties are still bickering over whether to make use of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) to recover from the COVID-19 crisis. Money, both grants and loans, from the much-awaited Recovery Fund is expected in the second semester of 2021 and until then, EU member states can only use loans from several already agreed tools, such as ESM.

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A drastic easing of measures

On 26 April, Italian PM Giuseppe Conte rolled out Italy’s ‘cautious’ plan to ease lockdown restrictions in four phases, announcing that schools would remain closed until the end of the academic year and public gatherings would continue being banned due to the high risks.

In an interview with Corriere della Sera daily, Health Minister Roberto Speranza confirmed that the current task of the government is to create the conditions to live with the virus until a vaccine or cure is ready. The PM said this would involve social-distancing and facemasks.

Some measures were already lifted on 16 April. Selected businesses, including bookstores and stationery shops, restarted operations in some Italian regions, while offices of international organisations based in Italy – such as the UNFAO – could also resume their activities.

To kick-start the country’s de-escalation plan, certain businesses were allowed to reopen as of 4 May, including restaurants for takeaway, meaning about 4.5 million returned to work. People were also allowed to visit relatives in small numbers. That day, Italy set to overhaul its working and transport norms to ensure safety as the country began easing its measures.

As of 18 May, shops, restaurants and even hair salons resumed their activities, although citizens will still be required to respect social distancing and wear face masks in enclosed spaces

On 25 May, Sports centres, gyms and swimming pools began reopening but had to carry out an assessment of its risk profile and the sports operators are obliged to respect the national health rules, including staying away from work if they have symptoms and reporting any contact with an infected person.

In the latest draft government decree, Italy announced a new set of reopenings which will take place as of 15 June.

Playgrounds and summer camps for children, as well as games rooms and betting agencies that will have to comply with their respective regions’ health protocols, were allowed to reopen as of 15 June.

The same goes for public shows in theatres and cinemas. However, seats will be preallocated and socially distanced. And while a maximum of 200 people will be allowed at indoor venues, outdoor ones will be allowed to welcome up to 1,000. In museums, visitors will have to keep a one-metre distance at all times.

Contact sports like football, basketball and volleyball – which includes sports at the amateur level, provided the region’s epidemiological allows for it – will restart on 25 June. Even so, the first official football match after the lockdown was played on Friday (12 June), with the second leg of the League Cup match between Juventus and Milan to be held behind closed doors.

However, ballrooms, discos, fairs and congresses will not be able to reopen until 14 July, but local administrations will be able to assess a different date according to their specific situation. Cruises flying the Italian flag also remain suspended until 14 July.

Since 3 June, Italy has opened its borders for everyone coming from the EU, the UK and the Schengen area. Quarantine is not necessary unless they have been in any other country in the 14 days beforehand. The government dismissed any possible attempt to apply different confinement rules in different regions as “unconstitutional” following spats between local governors.

And after meeting with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias in Athens on Tuesday (9 June), Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio announced that restrictions against Italian citizens would be lifted.

“I’m extremely satisfied with Dendias’ reassurance that there will be no travel restrictions between Greece and Italy,” Di Maio said after he had previously said that “the government is working on the recovery of the ‘Made in Italy’ brand all around the world.”

More about Italy’s lifting of measures:

Coronavirus board game to teach and entertain Italian kids

One board says: “You do the shopping for your neighbours: throw the dice again”. Another orders: “You go out without a face mask: go back to the previous square”. Those are some of the rules of a new, educational cum fun, ‘coronavirus board game’ designed for kids in Italy.

De-escalation plan: a source of confusion and backlash

Before the plan was set in motion, however, the announcement had caused some confusion and even became a source of backlash. The original decree, which was amended on 2 May, remained unclear on how to maintain one-metre distances on public transportation, which currently would force trains and buses to run at 25-30% capacity and crowd stations.

On 4 June, the Italian National Institute of Health (ISS) published a series of recommendations, stating that beachgoers who are not cohabitants will have to continue maintaining a distance of at least one metre – even in water – between each other.

However, if maintaining such distances turns out to be impossible, beachgoers will have to wear facemasks. Access to the beach will also be denied to people whose body temperature exceeds 37.5 degrees Celsius and any form of gathering, such as parties or other events should be prohibited. The Institute of Health and Workers’ Compensation Authority (INAIL), told Economic Development Minister Stefano Patuanelli that the protocols were “unsustainable” and would cause “serious damage” to the sectors

Bathing establishments were also recommended to accept customers only after making a reservation and to register the customers’ data and keep them for at least 14 days, to be able to track any suspicious contact.

The lifting of measures, however, also became the source of backlash.

Prior to the official lifting of measures, some local officials openly defied the government, believing that the national order does not provide enough local flexibility to relax measures. The president of Calabria region, Iole Santelli, issued an order that came into effect on 30 April, allowing customers to go to bars and restaurants (if seated outside), open-air markets to resume activities and citizens to travel within the region and practice individual outdoor sports. Sardinian Governor Christian Solinas also announced more relaxed lockdown easing measures.

However, Italian Prime Minister Conte stood firm, stressing that nothing more could have been done, as allowing certain activities to reopen is already a “calculated risk.” According to a report authored by epidemiologists, a complete reopening would lead to a rapid collapse of the healthcare system with an estimated 151,000 new patients admitted to ICU already in June.

“There are no conditions to returning to normal, we have to say that loud and clear,” the PM sad during his first visit to Italy’s hardest-hit Lombardy region, adding that people are making so many sacrifices that it is not the time to give up on COVID-19 measures.

However, according to Lombardy governor Attilio Fontana, waiting so long for the resumption of economic activities risks creating major problems for many sectors.

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A strict lockdown

On 9 March, Italy’s government imposed a national quarantine restricting the movement of citizens except essential work and health circumstances, after having suspended flights to China at the end of January and placing several Northern provinces under lockdown the day before (8 March) and closing schools and universities on 4 March.

As the number of cases grew, Italy closed all restaurants and bars on 11 March, and halted all non-essential production on 22 March. All non-essential shops and businesses were also closed.

On 24 March, the government approved stiffer sanctions for breaking lockdown rules, ANSA quoted sources outside a cabinet meeting.

Italy’s government issued a new decree extending the lockdown on 31 March until 13 April. “If we started to ease the measures, all the efforts would be in vain,” explained prime minister Giuseppe Conte in a press conference. “Even though the number of infected people is decreasing, we must not frustrate the efforts made so far,” Italy’s PM commented.

Lockdown measures were then extended on 10 April until 3 May.

Even students with an insufficient grade average (5 or below which corresponds to C or below) will successfully complete their class, according to a decree issued by the education ministry. For students attending the last year of high school, there will be no written final test but a single oral exam. And if health reasons so require, the final examination could also be carried out in telematic mode.

For more about this, read on:

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Huge economic losses and packages

Italy’s GDP could drop 11.3% in 2020 if the virus doesn’t return. However, this figure could creep up to 14% if a second wave followed by additional lockdown measures were to hit the country, according to the OECD’s latest Economic Outlook published on 10 June.

Besides, up to 2.2% of Italy’s total workforce, which corresponds to 385,000 people, have lost their job due to the country’s lockdown measures, notably because the tourism and logistics industry were so heavily impacted, Italian National Institute of Statistics (Istat) estimated in a report published on 28 May.

Since the pandemic, the government still attempted to weather the storm, by issuing several stimulus packages and calling on the EU for help.

On 16 March, Italy’s government issued a €25 billion stimulus package with measures ranging from financial aid for troubling businesses to suspending tax payments for families.

To support families and businesses, the government enacted the ‘cura-Italia’ decree (literally ‘heal Italy’), which entitles employees to 80% of their salary in the form of an indemnity. According to Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri, the decree will leverage another €350 billion in investments. Another €10 billion were earmarked as employment subsidies “so that no one will lose their job due to coronavirus,” and a fresh €3.5 billion were given to national health and civil protection.

On 17 March, Italy’s PM Giuseppe Conte urged EU leaders to take extraordinary measures and consider issuing joint debt at EU level to help Europe’s economy recover from the crisis.

He then went on to address the European Parliament on 25 March, calling on the EU to react immediately, noting that it is “imperative to ensure the highest possible degree of liquidity for businesses,” and that “the most valuable assets of our country must be protected by every means.” The same day, Conte, together with eight other EU leaders made a plea for ‘coronabonds’ to mutualise debt, which was backed by former ECB governor, Mario Draghi.

On 13 May, the government issued a much-awaited €55 billion new stimulus package, which includes measures such as an emergency income for families in distress, as well as tax cuts for businesses worth a total of €4 billion. Adoption was delayed due to a standoff between Italy’s ruling parties around the regularisation of illegal migrants working as agricultural labourers or as housekeepers.

After the stimulus package was adopted, Italy’s Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova was moved to tears when she told a press conference that the agreement on the regularisation of illegal migrant workers was reached. The minister also said that the state will now be stronger than ‘caporalato’, an Italian word for the exploitative conditions of migrants working on farms.

While an additional €3.25 billion was allocated to the national health system to ensure the number of ICU beds will increase by 115% from 5,179 to over 11,000, €1.15 billion will be earmarked as support for the agri-food sector, and another €1.45 billion will go to education to ensure the return to school in September.

For more about the impact on the economy, read here:

Italy to give further support to companies including tax incentives, hybrid bonds

Italy’s government is readying new measures to support companies struggling due to the coronavirus crisis, including tax incentives and hybrid bonds, and aims to access the European Recovery Fund in the second half of the year, Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri said on Sunday (10 May).

Health professionals at risk and COVID-19 app

Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, Italian health professionals have been paying a high price. “The data concerning our profession is worse than those recorded in China, which stopped at 3,300 infected doctors and 23 deaths,” said Filippo Anelli of the national federation of doctors, in a letter published in the British Medical Journal on 26 March.

This would have been largely avoidable if healthcare workers had been properly informed and equipped with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), according the letter.

At the end of March, US President Donald Trump even announced in a press conference that the US would be sending medical equipment and other aid worth $100 million to Italy. On twitter, Italy’s PM Giuseppe Conte thanked Trump, saying that together with him, Italy will defeat the virus.

As Italy entered the stages of lifting restrictions and ensure the virus remains under control, Italy launched its own COVID-19 tracking app, called Immuni, which tracks the contacts of people who have tested positive for COVID-19, was officially launched on 1 June in the regions of Apulia, Abruzzo, Marche and Liguria.

Once installed, the user will be required to enter data, such as their town of residence, and the system will work automatically so that codes generated automatically and anonymously can be exchanged between smartphones.

The app was approved on 1 June by the government because of “the complexity of the system and the number of subjects potentially involved”, as well as “a series of measures aimed at strengthening the privacy of the persons who will download the app.”

Read more:

Italy's Conte urges people not to panic as coronavirus outbreak grows

The number of people confirmed having contracted the coronavirus in northern Italy rose to 16 on Friday (21 February) but Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the country is prepared to manage the outbreak and people don’t need to be worried.

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