‘Phase two’: Italian PM set to unveil lockdown exit strategy this week

Italy's prime minister is expected to announce details this week of the steps the country will take to gradually loosen restrictions, reopen the economy and emerge from the coronavirus lockdown.

'Phase two': Italian PM set to unveil lockdown exit strategy this week
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Photo: Fabio Frustraci/ANSA/AFP

Italy, which has declared more coronavirus deaths than any other European country, enforced under national quarantine on March 10th, with some badly-hit northern regions imposing shutdowns even earlier.

The lockdown period, which has since been extended twice, is due to expire on May 3.

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

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is caught between trying to avoid a renewed spike in infections while avoiding additional damage to the economy.

The virus has so far killed over 24,000 people in Italy.

“I would like to be able to say, let's open everything. Right away,” Conte wrote on Facebook. “But such a decision would be irresponsible.”

Photo: AFP

“It would make the contagion curve rise uncontrollably and would jeopardise all the efforts that we've made until now.”

He laid out the difficulties of the so-called 'Phase 2' in reopening the economy, saying a plan would be laid out “before the end of this week. 

“A reasonable expectation is that we will apply it from May 4.”

“We have to reopen on the basis of policy that takes into consideration all the details and cuts across all the data. A serious policy, scientific,” Conte wrote.

In an example, he cited how, in allowing businesses to reopen, officials needed to consider how workers would get to and from work without causing crowds and triggering a new wave of contagion.

Conte said the plan would be national but would take into account regional differences.


Some in southern Italy have complained about the fact that they are subject to the same lockdown conditions as the north, despite far fewer coronavirus cases and lower population density in many areas.

But officials fear that lifting restrictions could trigger an outbreak in the south, placing dangerous strain on underfunded hospitals.

But Conte's government is facing growing pressure from business and opposition politicians who say Italy must now get back to work.

READ ALSO: Lombardy's governor pushes for Italian businesses to reopen

Conte earlier this month charged a task force made up of economists, lawyers, sociologists and other experts with studying the post-lockdown measures needed to restart the economy while protecting worker health.

The prime minister has so far struck a cautious note when asked about reopening, repeatedly warning that expert medical advice must be followed.

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Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Days after Italy's far-right leader made a multilingual appeal to foreign commentators to take her seriously, her main rival in September elections issued his own tit-for-tat video Saturday condemning her record.

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Former prime minister Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, declared his pro-European credentials in a video in English, French and Spanish, while deriding the euroscepticism of Italy’s right-wing parties.

It echoes the trilingual video published this week by Giorgia Meloni, tipped to take power in the eurozone’s third largest economy next month, in which she sought to distance her Brothers of Italy party from its post-fascist roots.

“We will keep fighting to convince Italians to vote for us and not for them, to vote for an Italy that will be in the heart of Europe,” Letta said in English.

His party and Meloni’s are neck-and-neck in opinion polls ahead of September 25 elections, both with around 23 percent of support.

But Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni is part of an alliance with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and anti-immigration leader Matteo Salvini, Letta has struggled to unite a fractured centre-left.

Speaking in French perfected in six years as a dean at Sciences Po university in Paris, Letta emphasised European solidarity, from which Italy is currently benefiting to the tune of almost 200 billion euros ($205 billion) in
post-pandemic recovery funds.

“We need a strong Europe, we need a Europe of health, a Europe of solidarity. And we can only do that if there is no nationalism inside European countries,” he said.

He condemned the veto that he said right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor “Orban — friends and allies of the Italian right — is using every time he can (to) harm Europe”.

In Spanish, Letta highlighted Meloni’s ties with Spain’s far-right party Vox, at whose rally she spoke earlier this summer, railing at the top of her voice against “LGBT lobbies”, Islamist violence, EU bureaucracy and mass

In English, he condemned the economic legacy of Berlusconi, a three-time premier who left office in 2011 as Italy was on the brink of economic meltdown, but still leads his Forza Italia party.

Letta’s programme includes a focus on green issues — he intends to tour Italy in an electric-powered bus — and young people, but he has made beating Meloni a key plank of his campaign.

Meloni insisted in her video that fascism was in the past, a claim greeted with scepticism given her party still uses the logo of a flame used by the Italian Social Movement set up by supporters of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

In a joint manifesto published this week, Meloni, Berlusconi and Salvini committed themselves to the EU but called for changes to its budgetary rules — and raised the prospect of renegotiating the pandemic recovery plan.

Elections were triggered by the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government last month, and are occurring against a backdrop of soaring inflation, a potential winter energy crisis and global uncertainty sparked by
the Ukraine war.