Health May 1, 2020
Italy moves towards “Phase Two”

By Ezio Tamilia - Accountable Care Journal

With the new decree signed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Italy is preparing to enter what has been called "Phase Two" of the health emergency caused by Covid-19.

After the lockdown of the country which began on 9 March – and is one of the strictest in Europe ­– many sectors will be open once again to resume working on Monday 4 May.

Citizens will have slightly greater freedom of movement in compliance with the safety protocols. "In Phase Two the guiding principle must be the protection of health and, therefore, it is necessary to proceed with prudence and gradualness," explained Italy’s Minister of Health Roberto Speranza.

The task force of scientists who have been advising the Government over the past few months believes that, although there is decrease in daily Covid-19 cases, this is not sufficient to return to a semblance of normality.

The task force has warned politicians against easing prevention measures too quickly as it could lead to a second, and possibly even worse, peak of infections. However, much of the public is disappointed by the announcement of new measures introduced in the Phase Two, calling them "messy and contradictory".

The Catholic Church is also critical of the Government’s measures. Through the Italian Episcopal Conference, it has criticized Phase Two as the plans continue to ban public masses, although funerals will be allowed with a limit number of people attending of 15.

Pope Francis has since intervened to quell the embarrassing conflict between the Vatican and the Italian Government. "We must respect the rules against the pandemic," he said in a statement released by the Vatican.

Entrepreneurs are among the angriest after Mr Conte's announcement that restaurants, bars, hairdressers and beauty salons will have to wait till 1 June to reopen their businesses.

“We must go strongly to the Government, which must listen to us,” said the famous chef Gianfranco Vissani in a video on Facebook. “For three months we have been closed and now we are going for the fourth month. Where are we supposed to get money from? We are the jewels of Italy. There are 350,000 restaurateurs and we must be helped to start again".

It seems that Italians expected a more decisive easing of the lockdown. However, the Government could not fail to take into account a report by the Technical Scientific Committee on Covid-19 and the risks related to a loosening of the containment measures.

"If all the sectors had been given the green light, teleworking and with schools open, the prospect would be a future need for 151,000 intensive care beds already in June, and the number of people admitted to the hospital, at the end of the year, would reach to 430,866," says the report. The biggest dangers, it highlights, “could come from the opening of shops, bars and restaurants”.

An ongoing debate

The controversies also focused on the resumption of school activities. According to government experts, reopening schools too soon "would trigger a new and rapid growth of the virus”. The return of pupils and students to school "could lead to the collapse of the healthcare sector,” they have said.

In support of the prudent attitude of the Italian authorities, there is evidence from France and Germany where the loosening of the lockdown is causing an increase in the number of new infections and people admitted to hospitals.

Sports fans and associations were also expecting something more. In the new decree, individual training for professional sports is set to resume on 4 May but little else. The fate of the world of football is still unknown, with many across the country still hoping for a possible resumption of the season in the summer.

Professional clubs expected a green light, but the prudent Minister of Sports Vincenzo Spadafora is taking his time. "Prudence is not an inability to decide, but the only hope we have to try to resume the season,” he said.

Fortunately, children have been a bit luckier. From 4 May, green spaces like parks and gardens will reopen but the ban on gatherings remains. The mandatory use of masks in indoor public places which applies to adults does not apply to children under six years old. Who knows if it will be enough to make them smile again.

In the UK, the public is pressing the Government for more clarity over the exit strategy from the lockdown. If Italy’s strategy offers any lessons for the UK, it is that the anger, insecurities and discontent are far from being over.

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