Italy leads Europe in easing coronavirus lockdown measures

As restrictions lifted, social distancing measures enforced as masks preferred as way to try and limit more outbreaks.

A child plays with a kite at the Sempione park, after parks reopen as Italy begins a staged end to a nationwide lockdown due to a spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
A child plays with a kite at a park in Milan as Italy begins a staged end to a nationwide lockdown [Flavio Lo Scalzo/Reuters]

Italy is leading Europe in easing lockdown measures aimed at containing the spread of the new coronavirus, almost two months after the epidemic hit the continent.

More than 4.4 million Italians went back to work on Monday after seven weeks of extraordinary restrictive measures.

In Italy, Europe’s worst-hit country in terms of deaths, almost 30,000 people have died amid more than 210,700 infections, according to the national Civil Protection Agency.

The return to work came as Italy tries to cushion the economic impact of the shutdowns.

Its economy, the euro zone’s third-largest last year, is expected to shrink more than in any year since the global depression of the 1930s.

Half of Italy’s workforce is receiving state support and the same number told a top pollster that they were afraid of becoming unemployed.

The long-awaited phase two includes resuming activities within factories, building sites and wholesale trade.

Italians are now also allowed to visit family members and people with whom they have an “established emotional bond” in the same region.

Parks are open for walking and running, and people can go for sport activities even far from home.

Social gatherings remain banned and it is mandatory to wear a mask on public transportation and in closed public spaces.

Restrictions on funerals have been relaxed, with a maximum of 15 mourners allowed to attend, but masses and weddings will have to wait.

Bars, hair salons and restaurants will be allowed to reopen only on June 1, if the rate of infection continues to lower.

People wearing protective masks walk on a street, as Italy begins a staged end to a nationwide lockdown due to the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Rome, Italy May 4, 2020. REUTERS/Rem
People wearing protective masks walk on a street in Rome, as Italy begins a staged end to the nationwide lockdown [Remo Casilli/Reuters]

‘We can hear more noise now’

As the lockdown eased, the sounds of banging and drilling echoed across Rome and a group of men drank espresso out of plastic cups in front of the Pantheon, the former Roman temple, as cafes reopened for takeaway services.

“We can hear more noise now,” Rome grocery store owner Daniela told the AFP news agency. “It’s better than this frightening silence.”

Though decreasing, the number of cases reported each day is still in thousands.

On Sunday, 174 deaths were reported amid more than 13,000 new infections. 

“Feelings of Italians are mixed. There is glimpse of hope that the worst is passed, but many are concerned that this phase could bring a second wave of infections,” journalist Francesco Giambertone told Al Jazeera from Milan.

These concerns stem from the lack of new measures addressed to prevent a further spread of the virus, Giambertone said. Many worry that little has changed since phase one.

“Nothing has been said about new tests which in March and February were not enough for everyone who needed to be tested,” said Giambertone, adding, “it’s not easy now to understand why some regions are making [antibody] tests and some are not.”

The government has been working on a contact tracing application but it is not ready yet.

Commuters wearing protective face masks exit the metro station on Syntagma square, on the first day of easing of a nationwide lockdown against the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Athens,
Commuters wearing protective face masks exit the metro station on Syntagma square in Athens, on the first day of easing the nationwide lockdown [Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters]

Relaxing measures across Europe

Some other countries in Europe also lifted restrictions on Monday.

The streets of the Greek capital Athens resounded with the noise of car horns after weeks of movement restrictions.

Some businesses have also opened as part of what authorities say will be a staggered reopening of the economy.

Barbershops and stores selling books, sporting goods, stationery, and other items can now open, albeit with strict hygiene and social distancing measures in place.

Masks are now compulsory for staff and passengers on public transport and employees in shops selling fresh food. Violators face fines.

On Monday morning, Greek police carried out inspections on buses and at metro stations to make sure passengers were wearing the mandatory surgical masks, and in shops to check whether social distancing rules were being followed.

Business-to-business companies opened offices to employees again in Belgium, even though remote work is still encouraged. Those who work from offices need to respect social distancing or wear protective masks.

Textile shops selling cloth will open, too, because they are essential if people want to make their own protective masks. Those masks will also be mandatory on public transport, which will seek to reopen at full capacity. And people will be allowed to exercise and play sport with two others.

As Germany reported 76 new deaths on Sunday, its lowest number since March 31, children were allowed on Monday for the first time back to school. Barbershops were also set to open their doors after being closed for almost two months as part of the lockdown measures.

Slovenia, Poland and Hungary joined Germany in allowing public spaces and businesses to partially reopen.

Portugal allowed small shops, salons and car dealers to resume business as well, but ordered facemasks to be worn in stores and on public transport.

A student of class 4d comes into the class with a mouth guard and puts his satchel on his table at the Goldbeck School in Hamburg, Germany, Monday, May 4, 2020. On Monday, lessons began again for more
As Germany reported 76 new deaths on Sunday, children were allowed on Monday for the first time back to school [Christian Charisius/DPA via AP]
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies