Millions of Italians will be able to visit each other’s homes this week for the first time since the lockdown began eight weeks ago, but there is considerable confusion about which face-to-face reunions will be permitted.
Italy’s terrible death toll – 28,884 fatalities from Covid-19 since the outbreak began in mid-February – has prompted its government to adopt a slow and staggered approach to winding back restrictions.
Visitation guidelines issued by the government over the weekend quickly became the butt of widespread criticism and mockery on social media.
These said visits to distant relatives will be allowed, including the children of cousins or the cousins of spouses.
It added that visits to anyone with whom one has “a stable bond of affection” were permitted – implying that seeing romantic partners was allowed but leaving many wondering whether they were allowed to visit friends.
Later, an off-the-record message to media outlets from the prime minister’s office explained that visits to friends are still not permitted.
Around 4.5 million workers are heading back to their jobs in manufacturing and strategic sectors, while restrictions on stores and commercial activities will be eased from May 18 and more businesses, such as restaurants, bars and hairdressers, will open on June 1.
While the Italian government has urged law enforcement authorities to exercise “prudent and fair” policing of new rules and restrictions, which will remain in place until May 17, Italians are also complaining about a complicated patchwork of “do’s and don’ts” across different regions.
A sense of confusion has also stemmed from Italy’s devolved power structure, with some regional authorities threatening to flout the rules and go it alone in reopening activities.
In Sicily, Sardinia and Emilia Romagna, people are allowed to go to their second homes for repairs and upkeep, while in Tuscany it is forbidden.
Face masks are obligatory in Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont and Emilia Romagna, while in Lazio they are required only if you are having a conversation.
Fishing is allowed in Puglia, Marche and Lombardy, but most beaches will remain closed.
“We are still in the full throes of the pandemic,” Giuseppe Conte, the prime minister, told La Stampa newspaper, warning that phase two should not be considered a full return to normality.
For weeks, Mr Conte and the committees he formed to manage the crisis have said that phase two will be about learning to “coexist with the virus”. But after 55 days of complying with some of the world’s strictest quarantine measures, Italians appear to be growing weary of heavy-handed government restrictions on personal liberties and continued financial aid delays.
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Business owners in the hospitality sector have begun staging symbolic protests at the slowness of the reopening and even the Italian Bishop’s Conference expressed dismay that holding Mass was still prohibited, though small funeral services and visits to cemeteries will now be allowed.
Domenico Arcuri, the Italian government’s emergency commissioner, told the nation on Saturday: “We’ve done our bit to the best of our ability. From Monday it will be up to you. I beg of you, do not lower your guard.”
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