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HEALTH

ANALYSIS: How and when will Italy’s lockdown end?

Italy has now been under national lockdown measures for almost a month. Is the end in sight? We take a closer look at what could happen next.

ANALYSIS: How and when will Italy's lockdown end?
A view of central Rome on April 6th. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

National lockdown measures were enforced in Italy on March 12th, and are set to remain in place until April 13th at the very earliest.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is on Tuesday consulting scientific experts about ways to safely end the lockdown, with Italy anxious to get back to work.

The measures show early signs of having contained the outbreak – which has killed more then  17,000 people in the country – but the near-total economic shutdown has also left millions unemployed.

Conte's videoconference with the government's scientific committee comes just one week before the closure of most businesses and factories is set to expire. 

The measures are widely expected to be extended for weeks or even months beyond the current end date of April 13.

Photo: AFP

Conte said last week that measures would be loosened very gradually, explaining that the government would look at implementing “phase two” of the shutdown, which he said would involve “coexistence with the virus”, before they could think about “phase three”, when the country would gradually get back to normal.

However no date for the beginning of “phase two” has yet been proposed.

“From an epidemiological point of view, we can start talking about 'phase two' when there are no more infections,” said leading Italian public health expert Nino Cartabellotta, President of the Gruppo Italiano per la Medicina Basata sulle Evidenze (GIMBE), Italy's Group for Evidence-based Medicine.

“Various predictive models place this date between the end of April to mid-May,” he told Italian Radio24, stressing that it's “not possible to make concete predictions.”

“Before that date, starting to think about reopening of any nature is extremely risky,” he continued, saying there's a “medium to high” risk of a new outbreak “as happened for example in Hong Kong.”

It is not yet clear what would change under “phase two”.

Officials are reportedly now studying procedures and discussing which businesses should be allowed to resume activity first.

But while some economic activity may resume under phase two, many other measures are expected to remain in place amid fears of a new wave of contagion.

Schools are expected to remain closed until at least September, Italian media reports.

The scientific committee is expected to issue recommendations about which factories might be allowed to resume safe operations as early as April 14, AFP reports.

Health officials warn that though the outbreak appears to have peaked in some areas, this is only because of the various closures and bans in effect.

Experts say the south of the country is still “at risk” and insist on keeping the containment rules in place for as long as possible – perhaps until a vaccine is developed, or tests which can reliably show who has immunity against the new disease.

But Italian businesses say they cannot afford to stay closed much longer.

A study released on Tuesday by the Confcooperative small business lobby said the economy was being subjected to an “epochal shock” that would take at least two years to recover from.

Meanwhile the government has announced emergency financial support for businesses, including a total of 750 billion euros in government-backed loans for businesses of all sizes.

It has already announced some emergency aid measures for self-employed workers and others left with no income due to the shutdown.

With people in Italy's poorer southern regions especially hard-hit financially, and a growing number now unable to afford food, some mayors have warned that regions will “implode” if more action is not taken quickly.

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The government is now thought to be looking at emergency support for the estimated 3.3 million people who had been working in Italy's shadow economy, and have now been left with nothing.

Italy's health “emergency is also an economic and social one,” Conte said in a nationally televised address.

Many of Italy's small businesses, such as restaurants and cafes, are not expected to be allowed to resume operations for many more months.

Media reports suggest that bars and nightclubs will be the very last businesses allowed to reopen nationally.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza warned on Tuesday that despite an encouraging drop in fresh cases being admitted to hospitals, “we are in the middle of a battle, and the only weapon we have is social distancing, respect for the rules.”


“We mustn't think we've won. The situation is and remains serious, it cannot be underestimated.”

READ ALSO: What's the problem with Italy's official coronavirus numbers?

 

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COVID-19

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”

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