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How Milan’s ‘new poor’ are struggling to afford food amid the pandemic

After a year of the coronavirus crisis, even the wealthiest parts of Italy are seeing a sharp rise in poverty rates.

How Milan's 'new poor' are struggling to afford food amid the pandemic
People queue at a food bank in Milan on March 8th, 2021. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Since coronavirus swept across Italy a year ago, the line outside Milan’s Pane Quotidiano charity has grown and grown.

READ ALSO: Poverty rises to 15-year high in Italy amid coronavirus crisis

“I’m ashamed to be here. But otherwise I would have nothing to eat,” said Giovanni Altieri, 60, who has been coming every day since the nightclub where he worked was shut under virus regulations.

“I had a good salary, but I’m at rock bottom here. I have no income and live off my savings,” he told AFP.

Every day, 3,500 people turn up at the two distribution points run in Milan by the charity, which hands out surplus food it receives from a range of organisations, as well as through individual donations.

People queue for bags of food at a charity food bank in Milan on March 8th, 2021. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Milan is the centre of Italy’s industrial north, and one of the richest cities in Europe. But as the pandemic has battered the country, poverty rates in the area have soared.

Some of those standing in line hide their faces with a scarf or bag, fearful of being recognised.

Many leave with several packages – one for each member of their family. Inside, there is milk, yoghurt, cheese, biscuits, sugar, tuna, a kiwi, a tiramisu and some bread.

Such sights were once rare on the streets of Milan, but across the wealthy north of Italy, more than 720,000 people have fallen below the poverty line in the last year.

Throughout Italy, the number of people in poverty jumped by one million in 2020 to 5.6 million, a 15-year high, according to national statistics agency Istat.

Italian non-profit association Pane Quotidiano (Daily bread) gives out food in Milan, on March 8th, 2021. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Poverty rates are higher in the south, which has long been poorer, but at 11.1 percent, compared to 9.4 percent in the north, the gap is narrowing.

“The queues have increased with Covid, there are more young people and more undeclared workers who have no right to social benefits,” said Claudio Falavigna, a 68-year-old volunteer at Pane Quotidiano, which has been running for 123 years.

“And there are also members of the middle classes, from the world of entertainment and events,” he said.

He recognises them “as they still dress well, they are elegant – it’s a question of dignity”.

Pre-pandemic, the region of Lombardy, which includes Milan, accounted for 22 percent of Italy’s GDP.

In 2019, the region had a per capita income of 39,700 euros (47,000 dollars) a year – well above the European average.

But it was also the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak last year that knocked Italy off its feet, and has so far left more than 100,000 people dead.

“The shock of the pandemic reduced to zero the revenues of many categories of workers, notably the self-employed, who number many in the towns of the north,” David Benassi, professor of sociology at the Bicocca University in Milan, told AFP.

READ ALSO: Why are so many women unemployed in Italy – and what’s being done about it?

And although a new citizenship income for the lowest paid came into effect in 2019 and is widespread in the south of Italy, many in the north often fall through the cracks of state support.

“Many families who fell into poverty in 2020 don’t fulfil the income and asset requirements,” said Benassi.

The worst hit are women and young people, who often have precarious jobs, noted Mario Calderini, professor of social innovation at Milan Polytechnic. 

“Women have paid a heavy price in this crisis, as have families with underage children,” he said.

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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