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LIFE IN ITALY

Why the partial end of lockdown in Italy isn’t as good as you’d imagine

Life in Italy under phase two turns out to be much as it was before lockdown - but with added stress, and few positives for the moment, writes Clare Speak from Bari in southern Italy.

Why the partial end of lockdown in Italy isn't as good as you'd imagine
A restaurant owner prepares takeaway orders on Monday. Photo: AFP

We're two days into “phase two” of lockdown here in Italy, and it's not quite as I thought it would be.

Under phase two, certain types of shops and businesses can gradually reopen. With a record recession on the horizon, there's no doubt that people need to start getting back to work. And there's concern about the psychological impact of keeping people indoors for almost two months, under Europe's longest lockdown.

Everyone's experience is different, but I haven't struggled as much as I expected to with spending the past eight weeks inside. I noted the positives (less pollution, peace and quiet) and I felt incredibly lucky. I may not have a garden, but I have a decent-sized apartment, a sunny balcony, and enough money for food. I can work from home, and I'm safe and well. 

But while I got through phase one without too much fuss, going back outside was unexpectedly anxiety-inducing and unpleasant. Phase two turns out to be more worrying, and harder to get used to, than the initial strict lockdown

PHASE TWO EXPLAINED: What's changed in Italy from May 4th?

Like everyone else, I was looking forward to the start of phase two and the small freedoms it promised. When the changes were finally announced last Sunday, they were underwhelming and confusing, but they still seemed positive. A first step on the road back.

The traffic fumes were the first thing that hit me when I opened the windows on Monday morning. Central Bari was already well on its way back to normality in that respect. Shutting the window and peering out of it, I watched a small queue forming at the condom machine across the road.

Two speeding motorini had a near miss on the corner by the bins, swerving and beeping. Everyone seemed to be busy resuming their pre-lockdown lives.

Q&A: Italy's new rules on going outside in lockdown phase two

 

The news was full of stories about people around Italy getting up at the crack of dawn to visit relatives, or simply to run in the park for the first time in over eight weeks. These stories, meant to be heartwarmng, left me feeling alienated – our tiny city parks are still shut in Bari, and my family are abroad.

Still, we've got the seafront, the ban on exercise has been lifted, and coffee bars have been allowed to reopen. They're serving takeaway coffees only, but after two months of nothing but the moka pot, that alone was a reason to go outside.

I regretted going out almost instantly, as a panting jogger slammed into me on a corner. It's hard to avoid people at all on the narrow pavements, never mind stay two metres apart.

Italian coffee bars can now serve takeaway coffee and pastries. Photo: AFP

He mumbled an apology and carried on, and I spent the rest of my 15-minute walk trying to dodge people and traffic, crossing busy roads to avoid small groups chatting in tight circles. I passed two coffee shops with crowds outside, filling the pavement and spilling into the road. How much did I really want that cappuccino? Not as much as I'd thought.

Our famously strict local mayor has spent weeks telling people to keep off the lungomare, the walkway by the sea. On Monday, people wasted no time in getting back out there. I stood across the road, dismayed and anxious, watching crowds jogging and strolling up and down, some in masks and gloves. And then I turned around and went home.

Tuesday morning's attempt at going out earlier was no better. I woke up to the sound of drilling as the construction site across the road got back to work.

A short walk revealed that the nearby coffee shops were eiher closed or too busy. As I reached my apartment and went to pull my keys out of my bag, a man's arm suddenly barred my way. “No entrance,” he shouted. “Money, now.”

I was more alarmed by his spit on my face than anything else. Taking a few steps back, I told him the police were on the corner, and he turned and ran. I ran, too, upstairs to my apartment, kicking off my shoes outside the door as if they were covered in toxic waste, and scrubbing my hands and face until it hurt.

Maybe I've just been unlucky.

Friends in Rome and Milan report long walks in beautiful parks, still-empty streets, and visits to quiet coffee shops. But here in Bari, all the downsides of city life – crowds, pollution, traffic, noise – have immediately sprung back to almost pre-lockdown levels. It's life pretty much as it was, but now with added stress.

Here in southern Italy there's also the looming threat of social unrest, with poverty levels skyrocketing. Protestors gathered today outside Bari's city hall, demanding money for families and businesses left with nothing due to the shutdown. The atmosphere is heavy, people are tense, and we don't know what the city will be like after this.

READ ALSO: 

With fewer police checks and thousands of people now estimated to be returning home to the south from areas with higher rates of infection, the risks are clear.

As I write, the sound of motorbike engines and drilling outside has just been drowned out, not for the first time, by the wailing of an ambulance siren close by.

I don't know about everyone else, but I'll be staying at home for a while yet.

 

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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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