Italy will open a small number of shops tomorrow in the first loosening of Europe’s longest coronavirus lockdown, while construction work could be set to resume in some places.
Bookshops, stationery shops and stores selling children’s clothes will be allowed to open their doors on Tuesday, the government says.
The wider containment measures which began on March 9 will continue until at least May 3, but the token loosening may reflect a desire to combat what officials have called the ‘psychological’ impact of the lockdown.
Italy’s daily death toll fell to its lowest (431) since March 19 yesterday, while the number of new infections has similarly stalled.
Police officers direct traffic in Rome today, more than a month after Italy went into a nationwide lockdown – which is due to continue until May
The very limited exceptions to the lockdown – allowing people to buy books, stationery and children’s clothes – were announced last Friday.
The slightly loosened restrictions also include forestry and the wood industry on the list of permitted economic activities.
Prime minister Giuseppe Conte wants a wider economic restart ‘as soon as possible’ but ministers say that ‘the conditions are not yet in place’.
There is also some disagreement among regions. The governor of Lombardy says bookshops in his hard-hit region will remain closed, but the leader of Liguria wants some construction sites to re-open, Italian media says.
Conte said the ‘signs of the epidemiological curve are encouraging’ but said it was still too early to lift the nationwide lockdown.
‘There are clear indications that the containment measures adopted so far by the Government are bearing fruit, but precisely for this reason we cannot nullify the efforts made so far,’ he said.
‘We have to make this extra effort. We must continue to respect the rules even [over Easter]. We must continue to maintain social distances.’
If Italy exits the lockdown too early ‘we would pay a very high price, in addition to the psychological and social cost,’ Conte warned.
Extending the emergency measures until May 3, he added: ‘This is a difficult but necessary decision for which I take all political responsibility.’
A medical worker attends to a patient in an intensive care unit of a Rome hospital on Saturday, with Italy’s death toll now slowing noticeably
A patient in Bologna’s Sant’Orsola hospital receives an Easter Sunday blessing from a priest wearing a mask and protective gear on Easter Sunday yesterday
Roberto Fico, the president of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, has similarly spoken of a ‘psychological’ impact of the lockdown.
‘In these days of worry and suffering, discouragement can grow and fragility can emerge and increase,’ he said, pointing people towards government-backed mental health services.
Italy’s interior ministry is also using a phone app to help geo-locate reports of domestic of violence.
The government has also allocated €30 million (£26million) to help shelter female victims of domestic abuse.
The 431 new deaths that Italy announced yesterday marked the lowest daily figure since March 19, when the curve was still climbing.
The latest deaths brought the total from 19,468 to 19,899, a 2.2 per cent jump which is the lowest since the crisis began.
New infections increased by 4,092, which is not a record low but is 602 fewer than the 4,694 added to the tally on Saturday.
It takes the overall figure from 152,271 to 156,363.
The number of people receiving emergency care is dropping, the latest figures showed, while the number of people in non-critical hospital care is also down.
‘The pressure on our hospitals continues to ease,’ civil protection service chief Angelo Borrelli told reporters.