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HEALTH

Why readers in Italy say lockdown must continue despite ‘financial strain and heartbreak’

There's no doubt that life under Italy's strict quarantine rules is hard for everyone. But living in another country adds extra challenges. Here's how The Local's readers are coping with lockdown - and why they think it should continue.

Why readers in Italy say lockdown must continue despite 'financial strain and heartbreak'
A woman carries shopping home along an empty street in Rome. Photo: AFP

People across Italy have been living under quarantine for five weeks now, or longer in some areas, and after the latest extension last Friday we know the rules will be in place until at least May 3rd.

Italy, which has enforced strict quarantine rules nationwide, was the first Western democracy to impose a lockdown after it suffered by far the biggest outbreak of Covid-19 in Europe. Though numbers of new cases and deaths are now steadily declining, Italy remains one of the worst-hit countries in the world, after the US.

As government ministers look at how and when they might be able to move to “phase two” of lockdown, the prospect of a gradual return to normality remains weeks or possibly even months away. 

READ ALSO: What needs to happen before European countries lift coronavirus restrictions?

Almost all of those who wrote in said they were struggling to some extent. Many said the worst thing was the uncertainty, the loneliness, or the pain and worry of being separated from family and friends.

One reader summed up the hardest things about life under lockdown: “The financial strain and worry. The worry about family and friends. The heartbreak of seeing your adopted city lose so many people.”

And yet, despite all this, the majority said that lockdown must continue.

Our survey of The Local's readers in Italy found 82 percent agreed the country should take whatever measures are needed to contain the spread.

Many urged caution, fearing a second wave of contagion could mean “we'd end up back in quarantine again anyway.”

Even some who are feeling the financial impact of the shutdown said it had to continue.

“Many of us have made, and are making, huge sacrifices. If extending the lockdown for another week, two weeks or even a month makes these sacrifices worthwhile, I would be prepared to do it,” said one.

And some have been very badly hit economically.

“Being closed has cost us tens of thousands of euros,” said one restaurant owner.

A couple who run a hotel said they've had no income for the past month and a half. “We probably won't see the market return to normal until next year, and might not make it to then.”

Many more are self.employed workers who say they're now struggling to make ends meet.

“I'm a freelance English teacher living alone. I've had to reorganise my work online, having never worked in this way before,” said one. “I've earned 20 percent of my average monthly salary since lockdown and I receive no other income.”

People queue to shop at a tabaccheria in northern Italy. Photo: AFP

Some of Italy's foreign residents are also concerned about how a sudden loss of income could potentially affect their right to live in the country.

“My family has a vacation rental in Pontremoli that remains empty as tourism has ground to a halt,” explained one reader. “This means the loss of passive income that is required to maintain an elective residency visa.”

The government on Tuesday allowed a very short list of shops and businesses deemed to be low-risk to start getting back to work, under certain conditions.

READ ALSO: Here are the businesses that can start reopening in Italy

Some readers said they thought loosening measures further, allowing some outdoor exercise and letting more businesses to open would be a sensible move.

“At the moment we can order stuff online and get it delivered from miles away, but not buy the same thing from local shops. Seems a bit daft to me,” commented one reader.

“Social distancing should be continued, but not lockdown,” said another.

“There are worse places to be locked down

However, the vast majority told us that seeing Italy's response to the crisis had left them feeling very positive overall about life in the country, and closer to their Italian neighbours.

“It showed me the true unity of the italian people. I have fallen in love with Italy even more than before,” said Sandy Blackburn, living in Lago Patria.

Many said they felt “proud” and “grateful” that “the country and its people have taken the necessary precautions to protect society.”

American and British readers in particular said they were happy with the Italian government's response.

“In my 14 years here in Italy, I have never seen the government act with such authority, courage and strength,” commented one reader. “I would much rather be enduring the crisis here than in NY, where I am originally from.”

Another reader, originally from the north of England, said: “I'm now living in Alto Adige near Trento and I can safely say there are worse places to be locked down.”

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

Some readers said they believe things will eventually get back to normal in Italy, while others said the severe economic damage would change the country for years to come. But the majority said they do believe things will change in Italy after lockdown – for the better.

“Lockdown has shone a light on certain problems. Smart working will be more accepted now that we've learned what we can do remotely. I think it's given people time to reflect on what's important,” said one.

“I hope everything will change, and a fairer and more just economic model will be brought in. I also hope the public health service will be better funded,” commented reader Jule Blint in Rome.

And many said fundamental parts of life in Italy would almost certainly change, with many wondering if the crisis spells the end for kisses and hugs as a standard greeting for friends, acquaintances, and colleagues.

As one reader in Ravenna province put it: “People here will have a hard time being as social and as inviting as before.”

We weren't able to include everyone's answers, but thank you to all who took the time to fill out this questionnaire.

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COVID-19 RULES

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

The new Italian government has announced the end of some remaining Covid health measures. Here's a look at what will - and won't - change.

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

Few Covid-related restrictions remain in Italy today, six months after the nationwide ‘state of emergency’ ended.

The previous government had kept only a handful of precautionary measures in place – which the new government, led by Giorgia Meloni, must now decide whether or not to keep.

The cabinet is holding a meeting on Monday and will issue a decree this week detailing any changes to the health measures.

Many expect the government to scrap all measures entirely by the end of the year, after Meloni and her party criticised the way Mario Draghi’s administration handled the pandemic throughout its tenure. 

Meloni clearly stated in her first address to parliament last Tuesday that “we will not replicate the model of the previous government” when it comes to managing Covid.

READ ALSO: Five key points from Meloni’s first speech as new Italian PM

While she acknowledged that Italy could be hit by another Covid wave, or another pandemic, she did not say how her government would deal with it.

Meanwhile, new health minister Orazio Schillaci issued a statement on Friday confirming the end of several existing measures, saying he “considers it appropriate to initiate a progressive return to normality in activities and behaviour”.

Workplace ban for unvaccinated medical staff

Schillaci confirmed that the ministry will allow doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to return to work after being suspended because they refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Those who refuse vaccination will be “reintegrated” into the workforce before the rule expires at the end of this year, as part of what the minister called a “gradual return to normality”.

They will be allowed to return “in light of the worrying shortage of medical and health personnel” and “considering the trend of Covid infections”, the statement said.

Fines issued to healthcare staff aged over 50 who refused vaccination would also be cancelled, it added.

There were some 1,579 doctors and dentists refusing vaccination at the end of October, representing 0.3 percent of all those registered with Italy’s National Federation of the Orders of Physicians, Surgeons and Dentists (Fnomceo) 

Daily Covid data reports

Schillaci also confirmed in the statement that the health ministry will no longer release daily updates on Covid-19 contagion rates, hospital cases and deaths, saying this would be replaced by a weekly update.

It said it would however make the data available at any time to relevant authorities.

Mask requirement in hospitals to stay?

The requirement to wear face masks in hospitals, care homes and other healthcare facilities expires on Monday, October 31st.

At a meeting on the same day the government is expected to decide whether to extend the measure.

READ ALSO: What can we expect from Italy’s new government?

While the government had looked at scrapping the requirement, it reportedly changed stance at the last minute on Monday after facing heavy criticism from health experts.

Media reports published while the meeting was in progress on Monday said government sources had indicated the measure would in fact be extended.

Confirmation is expected to come later on Monday.

Italy’s face mask rules in care homes and healthcare facilities are up for renewal. Photo by Thierry ZOCCOLAN / AFP

‘Green pass’ health certificate

There is no indication that the new government plans to bring back any requirements to show a ‘green pass’: the digital certificate proving vaccination against or recent recovery from Covid, or a negative test result.

The pass is currently only required for entry to healthcare facilities and care homes, and this is expected to remain the case.

‘Dismantling the measures’

Some of the confirmed changes were strongly criticised by Italy’s most prominent healthcare experts.

Head of the Gimbe association for evidence-based medicine, Nino Cartabellotta, said the focus on cancelling fines for unvaccinated healthcare workers was “irrelevant from a health point of view .. but unscientific and highly diseducative”.

He told news agency Ansa it was “absolutely legitimate” for a new government to discontinue the previous administration’s measures, but that this “must also be used to improve everything that the previous government was unable to do”.

The government should prioritise “more analytical collection of data on hospitalised patients, investments in ventilation systems for enclosed rooms … accelerating coverage with vaccine boosters,” he said.

However, the plan at the moment appeared to be “a mere dismantling of the measures in place,” he said, “in the illusory attempt to consign the pandemic to oblivion, ignoring the recommendations of the international public health authorities”.

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