**This article is continuously updated with the latest developments.
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, the Italian National Institute of Statistics (Istat) estimated.
This has been put down to the fact that the tourist industry and particularly restaurants and hotels have suffered the most during the pandemic, the commerce, logistics and transport sectors were also heavily impacted. Read more.
Meanwhile, while current travel restrictions are set to be lifted as of 3 June, the question of whether the borders of the most affected regions, such as Lombardy, Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna, should remain closed remains under discussion.
Now that governors of various regions have expressed their willingness to adopt differing measures, the situation has become unclear for people who need to travel to Italy.
Sardinia, for example, is asking for a ‘health passport’ to be issued to anyone wishing to enter the island, certifying that they are not infected by the coronavirus.
The measure has spurred controversy, as the government deems it to be “an ambitious move, but impossible to implement.”
As of Thursday (28 May), Italy has reported 231,159 cases of the virus and 33,072 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Drastic easing of measures
Sports centres, gyms and swimming pools began reopening Monday (25 May). Each sports centre must 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.
This is the latest in the Italian government’s drastic easing of its restrictive COVID-19 lockdown measures, after having experienced Europe’s longest lockdown. Last Monday (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. From 3 June, travelling between EU countries will no longer be restricted, good news for the struggling tourism sector.
Stimulus funding after delays
The government has issued a much-awaited €55 billion new stimulus package, that will include measures such as an emergency income for families in distress, as well as tax cuts for businesses worth a total of €4 billion.
In the press conference, Italy’s Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova was moved to tears when she announced the agreement reached on the regularisation of illegal migrant workers, adding that the state will now be stronger than ‘caporalato’, an Italian word for the exploitative conditions of migrants working on farms.
The national health system will receive an extra €3.25 billion, meaning the number of ICU beds will increase by 115% from 5,179 to over 11,000. While €1.15 billion will be earmarked as support for the agri-food sector, another €1.45 billion will go to education to ensure the return to school in September.
The adoption of the aid package was delayed due to a the standoff between Italy’s ruling parties around the regularisation of illegal migrants working as agricultural labourers or as housekeepers.
Confusion over reopening measures
After announcing an easing to lockdown measures on 26 April, Italy is kicking off phase 2 of its de-escalation plan, as 4.5 million Italians returned to work on 4 May. However, there remains confusion over which activities are allowed.
Part of this confusion stemmed from jargon in the original decree, which the government was forced to amend on 2 May.
However, the new guidelines have not yet cleared up whether walks outside are allowed. It also remains unclear how to maintain the 1-metre distancing guidelines in public transportation, which currently would force trains and buses to run at 25-30% capacity and crowd stations.
When it comes to the two guidelines with safety measures required for opening beaches and restaurants released by the country’s’ Institute of Health and Workers’ Compensation Authority (INAIL), representatives from the two industries already told Economic Development Minister Stefano Patuanelli that the protocols were “unsustainable” and would cause “serious damage” to the sectors.
Reopening measures generate backlash
On 26 April, Italian PM Giuseppe Conte rolled out Italy’s plan to ease lockdown restrictions. While schools will remain closed until the end of the academic year and public gatherings are still banned due to the high risks, certain businesses will be allowed to reopen as of 4 May, including restaurants for takeaway. People will be also allowed to visit relatives in small numbers. However, the government’s cautious approach to lifting restrictive measures attracted some criticism.
Some local officials have openly defied the orders, 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.
Despite the criticism, Italian PM Conte has stood firm in the plan, 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 total reopening would lead to a rapid collapse of the healthcare system with an estimated 151,000 new patients admitted to ICU already in June.
In his first visit to the Lombardy region – the hardest hit by the pandemic – Conte reacted to disappointed public opinion over the mild relaxation of restrictive measures after 50 days in lockdown.
“There are no conditions to returning to normal, we have to say that loud and clear,” the PM stressed, 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.
Preparing for the easing of lockdown measures
Italy is set to overhaul its working and transport norms to ensure it is still as safe as possible from the coronavirus even after phase two begins with the easing of lockdown restrictions on May 4.
As of 14 April, some selected businesses, including bookstores and stationery shops, restarted operations in some Italian regions. Offices of international organisations located in Italy, like the UN-agency FAO, were allowed to resume their activities too.
Social distancing and face masks will be needed in ‘phase two’ until a vaccine is ready for use, Italian PM Giuseppe Conte said on Tuesday
In an interview with Corriere della Sera daily, Health Minister Roberto Speranza confirmed that the task of the government now is to create the conditions to live with the virus until a vaccine or cure will be ready.
Italy’s government has issued a new decree to extend the current lockdown in force in the country 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.
Italy has reached or is close to the peak of infections, according to the leading technical-scientific body of the Italian National Health Service.
“Even though the number of infected people is decreasing, we must not frustrate the efforts made so far,” Italy’s PM commented.
No student in Italy will flunk this year thanks to a decree the Education Ministry is drafting. Even students with an insufficient grade average (5 or below which corresponds to C or below) will successfully complete their class.
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.
“Huge” loss of GDP
The research unit of the business association Confindustria released a report saying that the loss of GDP in the first half of 2020 will be “huge”, with a cumulative fall in the first two quarters of around -10%.
Assuming the overcoming of the acute phase of the emergency at the end of May, the estimate for growth forecast will be of -6% for 2020. For 2021 a partial recovery is expected, with a rebound of +3.5%, the report says.
New measures, new stimulus
Italy’s government will extend the restrictive measures currently into force at least until Easter (12 April), Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza said. The government is also preparing another stimulus package for mid-April.
“At least another €25 billion will be allocated, but I hope we can have even more resources available,” said Minister for relations with the Parliament Federico D’Incà.
Meantime, President Donald Trump announced in a press conference that the US will send medical equipment and other aid for $100 million to Italy. On twitter, Italy’s PM Giuseppe Conte thanked Trump, saying that together with him, Italy will defeat the virus.”
Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, Italian health professionals have been paying a high price. 94 doctors and 26 nurses have died due to the virus.
“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.
This would have been largely avoidable if healthcare workers had been properly informed and equipped with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), says the letter.
Addressing the Parliament on Wednesday (25 March), Italy’s PM Giuseppe Conte has called for responsibility in this “unprecedented emergency for Europe and the whole world. “Will we be up to it? History will judge us the time for assessing what we’ve been doing will come,” he said.
Conte added 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.”
He also called the EU to react immediately, as “late replies are pointless.” On Wednesday (25 March), Conte co-signed together with other 8 EU leaders a plea for ‘coronabonds’, a form of mutualising debt at EU level to respond the crisis from a financial point of view.
Former European Central Bank (ECB) Governor Mario Draghi stepped in the debate with an OpEd appeared on the Financial Times on Wednesday (25 March). “It is already clear that the answer must involve a significant increase in public debt,” he wrote.
“Faced with unforeseen circumstances, a change of mindset is as necessary in this crisis as it would be in times of war,” Draghi continued.
The government on Tuesday (24 March) approved stiffer sanctions for breaking lockdown rules, ANSA quoted sources outside a cabinet meeting.
On Monday (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.
Italy’s PM Giuseppe Conte also urged EU leaders on Tuesday (17 March) to take extraordinary measures and consider issuing joint debt at EU level in order to help Europe’s economy recover from the coronavirus crisis.
According to Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri, the decree ‘cura-Italia’, literally ‘heal Italy’ will leverage other €350 billion of investments.
“The government is close to businesses, families, women and men, young people, all those who are making enormous sacrifices to protect the highest good. No one must feel abandoned,” said Italy’s PM Giuseppe Conte.
Conte also suggested other EU countries follow Italy’s model not only from the health point of view but also as the country is putting forward an economic strategy to respond to the emergency.
Fresh €3.5 billion will be allocated to the national health system and the civil protection, while other €10 billion will be earmarked as employment subsidies “so that no one will lose their job due to coronavirus.”
The package also includes €85 million to schools for the digital equipment needed to support distance learning.