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When will Italy’s lockdown ‘phase two’ begin and what will it involve?

As the Italian government plans “phase two” of the national lockdown measures, here's what we know so far about what that means, when it might happen, and how long it will last.

When will Italy's lockdown 'phase two' begin and what will it involve?
Central Rome stands empty on Wednesday April 15th. Photo: AFP

The next phase of Italy's quarantine restrictions could be in place for “six to eight months”, some Italian health experts believe, while those eager to get the economy running again want measures loosened from May.

The Italian government continues to consult its panel of scientific experts on when and how to implement the so-called “phase two”, an intermediary period between the current strict lockdown and “phase three”, during which the country will begin its gradual return to normality.

Not much is known yet about official plans for phase two of quarantine. But the government is looking at making changes from the end of the current lockdown period on May 3rd.

Photo: AFP

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Friday that some types of business and industry could reopen, including bookshops and children's clothing shops – which are deemed low risk as they rarely attract crowds of shoppers.

The national government allowed such businesses to reopen from Tuesday April 14th – although some of Italy's regional authorities refused to allow re-openings, and some businesses themselves chose to remain closed.

READ ALSO:  Why the coronavirus quarantine rules aren't always the same around Italy

The government has been facing pressure from business groups and opposition politicians pushing for industrial activity to be allowed to restart.

A broader lifting of restrictions – with social distancing still in place – could be allowed as early as May 4th, they argue.
 

Meanwhile, medical experts argue that social distancing measures must stay in place for months yet – some say until the end of the year – amid fears that loosening measures too early could trigger a new wave of contagion, and a new lockdown.

So will “phase two” simply be about gradually reopening businesses, or will any other measures be lifted?

At the moment, not much is known about the government's plans.

Many people are keen for the government to allow outdoor exercise. Some regions, such as Veneto, have announced people may take limited amounts of exercise – no further than 200 metres from home, for no more than one hour per day.

But in most regions, this is not allowed. The rules on outdoor exercise across Italy are a little hazy, and change from region to region. But in most areas, no more than a short walk or jog around the block is allowed – and even then, some police officers may not deem this an acceptable reason to be outside.

When will schools reopen?

Schools are expected to remain closed until at least September, Italian media reports. This has not been officially confirmed by the government.

Medical experts reportedly view the idea of reopening schools during this school year as too risky, due to the fact it would mean some 12 million people – students, teachers, school staff, caterers, and others – moving around.

From September, ministers are considering a staggered or partial reopening of schools, or perhaps having all classes taught remotely.
 

Other restrictions are expected to stay in place for many months.

Long walks, restaurant visits, coffee on the piazza, and trips out of town aren't expected to be part of normal life in Italy again any time soon.

Is Italy facing a summer without travel?

A summer without trips to the beach is unthinkable for many Italians, and owners of private beach clubs and lidos are now scrambling to find ways to enforce social distancing on the beach in the hope that they might be able to reopen this season.

Alessandro Vespignani, an expert on epidemiology and the spread of disease, said this year Italians would be facing a summer “without travel”.

READ ALSO: When will it be possible to travel to Italy again?

It's not clear yet how long the government expects the second phase to last. But Vespignani commented that “it is a process I see lasting for the next six to eight months”.

“The second phase will continue for a long time. We must not think that we can return to normality in July or August,” he said in a television interview on Wednesday.

Is testing the route out of lockdown for Italy?

The government has said repeatedly that phase two would involve “coexistence with the virus” and is likely to rely on testing to get people back to work.

“In phase two, we would like to extend the testing across the country to find those who are infected as early as possible – including those without symptoms,” Italy's ISS public health institute director Silvio Brusaferro said.

Photo: AFP

However, some doctors at the centre of the outbreak in Italy's Lombardy region on Wednesday cast doubt on the idea of mass testing, saying it was unrealistic, partly because of the shortage of swab tests.

Milan's Polytechnic Institute professor Davide Manca said it would take five years to conduct swab tests on everyone in the region at the current rate, adding that “you need people tested every 15 days for it to have any meaning.”

Daily new infections would need to slow to less than one percent before phase two could be brought in, experts have said.

The rate stood at 1.9 percent on Tuesday April 14th.

Italy's evidence-based medicine group Gimbe estimates that Italy won't see new cases at zero until at least June.

READ ALSO:

While business groups stress that continuing the lockdown past May would carry “heavy risks” for the economy, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte remains cautious.

He cites the scientific community when he insists that the lifting of the lockdown cannot be rushed because it could spark a new epidemic in another part of the country.

Officials have serious concerns about the prospect of a major outbreak in Italy's poorer south, where hospitals would not be able to cope.
 

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza has repeatedly warned that, although numbers of fresh cases are slowing, there's a very long way to go.

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

The World Health Organization's Italian government adviser Walter Ricciardi told Italy's La Stampa newspaper that social distancing measures might have to be enforced “until the end of the year.”

We will continue to bring you updates on the Italian government's plans for phase two as they are announced.

See all of The Local's reporting on the coronavirus outbreak in Italy here.

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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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