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HEALTH

‘We are in a very long battle’: Italy prepares to extend coronavirus lockdown

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's government on Sunday prepared Italians for a "very long" lockdown that would only be lifted gradually, despite its economic hardship and traumatic impact on daily lives.

'We are in a very long battle': Italy prepares to extend coronavirus lockdown
People in Italy are preparing for a long lockdown that will only lifted in stages. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The message from ministers and health officials came as Italy's world-topping death toll rose by 756 — below Friday's record of 969 — and the rate of coronavirus infections slowed to under six percent for the first time.

Yet the government appeared more focused on the nearing April 3 deadline to lift a national lockdown that had never been tried by a Western democracy — and has since been replicated across Europe and the United States.

READ ALSO:  'More sacrifices to come': When will Italy finally reach the peak of the coronavirus epidemic?

“The measures expiring on April 3 will inevitably be extended,” Regional Affairs Minister Francesco Boccia told Italy's Sky TG24 television.

“I think that, at the moment, talking about re-opening is inappropriate and irresponsible. We all want to go back to normal. But we will have to do it by turning on one switch at a time.”

Italy won't get back to normal from one day to the next, virologist Fabrizio Pregliasco of Milan University told Ansa news agency. 

“We have to resume via a gradual exit strategy and I believe we'll still have to keep some restrictions in place,” Pregliasco said, notably the ban on large public gatherings which he said could remain effective “for some time”.

Italy is effectively sacrificing almost all forms of business activity to fight the pandemic that first emerged in China last year.

Deputy Finance Minister Laura Castelli said that the government's initial €25 billion rescue package for affected families and companies might have to be quadrupled in size.

“In my opinion, at least 100 billion [euros] will be needed,” Castelli told the La Stampa daily.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus: The financial help available in Italy and how to claim it


Photo: AFP

Italy's death toll now stands at 10,779 and the number of officially registered infections is just under 100,000.

But officials brushed aside various data suggesting that both rates were slowing and that Italy might have already lived through the worst.

“We are in the midst of a pandemic,” Health Minster Roberto Speranza told reporters. “It would be a mistake to let our guard down.”

Government medical adviser Luca Richeldi warned that data pointing to a slowdown “are a reason for us to be even stricter.

“We are in a very long battle,” said Richeldi. “Through our behaviour, we save lives.”

READ ALSO:

Ministers are expected to decide on the length of an extension in the coming days.

Conte has the right to keep the lockdown — in full or in part — until the existing state of medical emergency expires on July 31. But there is nothing preventing his government from declaring a new one should restrictions be needed into the second half of the year.

Conte has indicated that he would like to see most measures lifted by June.

Yet the strains on Italian society imposed by measures that might have seemed unimaginable just weeks ago are gradually starting to show.

The starkest example came when armed police began guarding entrances to supermarkets in Sicily after reports of looting by people who could no longer afford food.

READ ALSO: 'We have to eat': Sicilian police crackdown on locals looting supermarkets


Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Newspaper stories about growing discontent in one of Italy's least-developed regions appeared to be at least partially behind Conte's decision to make another TV appeal to the nation on Saturday.

Conte used it to announce a food voucher programme that will cost the government another €400 million.

“We know that many suffer but the state is there,” Conte said.

But this is only a stop-gap measure designed to help families cover grocery costs of between €25 and €50 on a one-time basis.

Projections from several global banks and think-tanks in the past week point to Italy's economic output shrinking by 7 percent this year. Those numbers are based on the assumption that the lockdown will not be extend far beyond April.

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HEALTH

Living in Italy: Five tips to help you survive the local pharmacy

From ear piercings to flu jabs, Italian ‘farmacie’ are among the most useful stores in the country, but they’re also very odd places. Here are our tips on getting through the pharmacy experience.

Living in Italy: Five tips to help you survive the local pharmacy

Italian pharmacies aren’t just stores selling prescription or over-the-counter medicines.

As a customer, you’ll find all sorts of natural remedies, basic health supplies and personal care items on their shelves. 

You’ll also be able to receive basic medical services (for instance, blood pressure checks, Covid tests and flu jabs) and some non-health-related ones (like getting your ears pierced!) in most branches. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I still get the flu vaccine in Italy? 

But, while being extremely useful stores, Italian farmacie (pronunciation available here) are also peculiar places and their set of unwritten rules and solidified traditions may well throw off newcomers.. 

So here are five tips that might help you complete your first expeditions to your local pharmacy without making a fool of yourself.

1 – Decipher your doctor’s scribbles before your trip

Much like some of their foreign colleagues, Italian GPs have a penchant for writing prescriptions that no one else is actually able to read. 

We might never find out why doctors seem so intent on making ancient hieroglyphs fashionable again, but their calligraphic efforts will surely get in the way of you trying to buy whatever medicine you need to survive. 

To avoid hiccups, make sure you know exactly what you need to get. If in doubt, reach out to your GP to confirm.

Don’t rely on pharmacists being able to figure out your doctor’s handwriting because they often have no clue either.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to make a doctor’s appointment in Italy 

Pharmacy in Codogno, near Milan

In most small towns and rural areas local pharmacies have very ‘thin’ opening hours. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

2 – Double-check the pharmacy’s opening times

If you’re from the UK or the US, you might be used to pharmacies being open from 8am to 10pm on weekdays and having slightly reduced opening times over the weekend. 

You can forget about that in Italy. In big cities, most pharmacies will shut no later than 8pm on weekdays and will be closed on either Saturdays or Sundays.

READ ALSO: Coughs, colds and flu: What to say and do if you fall sick in Italy 

As for small towns or villages, opening times will have a nice Middle Ages vibe to them, with local stores remaining shut on weekends and keeping their doors open from 9am to 12.30pm and then from 3.30pm to 7.30pm on weekdays. 

So always check your local pharmacy’s hours before leaving home and, should their times not be available online, call them up. An awkward phone conversation with the pharmacist is still preferable to a wasted trip.

3 – Get the ‘numerino

Some Italian pharmacies have a ticket-dispensing machine with the aim of regulating the queue – a concept which is still foreign to many across the country.

All customers are expected to get a numbered paper ticket (the famed ‘numerino’) from the above machine and wait for their number to be called to walk up to the pharmacist’s desk. 

Now, the law of the land categorically prohibits customers from getting within a five-metre radius of the desk without a numerino

Also, trying to break that rule may result in a number of disdainful sideways glances from local customers.

4 – You cannot escape the in-store conversations, so embrace them 

Pharmacies aren’t just stores. They’re a cornerstone of Italian life and locals do a good deal of socialising on the premises. 

After all, the waiting times are often a bit dispiriting, so how can you blame them for killing the time?

Small pharmacy in Italy

Pharmacies are an essential part of Italian life and culture. Photo by Marco SABADIN / AFP

You might think that locals won’t want to talk to you because you’re a foreigner or don’t know the language too well, but you’ll marvel at how chatty some are.

While chit-chat might not be your cup of tea, talking with locals might help you improve your Italian, so it’s worth a shot.

5 – “Vuoi scaricarlo?”

The pharmacist finally gets you what you need and you’re now thinking that your mission is over. Well, not yet.

Before charging you for the items in question, the pharmacist will ask you whether you’d like to ‘scaricarli’ (literally, ‘offload them’) or not, which, no matter how good your Italian is, will not make any sense to you.

What the pharmacist is actually asking you is whether you want to link the purchase to your codice fiscale (tax code). 

READ ALSO: Codice fiscale: How to get your Italian tax code (and why you need one)   

That’s because Italy offers residents a 19-percent discount on some health-related expenses, which can be claimed through one’s annual income declaration (dichiarazione dei redditi) by attaching the receipts of all the eligible payments.

Whether you want to scaricare or not, this is the last obstacle before you can make your way back home.

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