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World

Italy Announces Gradual Easing Of COVID-19 Lockdown

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Italy was the first Western nation to go into lockdown to try to combat the coronavirus. More than 26,000 have died there. Only the United States has a higher death toll from the pandemic. But the lockdown in Italy appears to be working. And beginning next week, the country will start to reopen. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has been locked down along with everyone else in Rome, and she is on the line with us this morning. Hi, Sylvia.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So this plan to slowly reopen was announced by the prime minister yesterday. He gave a speech to the country. How's it going to work?

POGGIOLI: Well, this is how Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the reopening road map.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER GIUSEPPE CONTE: (Speaking Italian).

POGGIOLI: He said, "this is the start of phase two of coexistence with the virus. We have to be aware that the curve of contagion could rise again in some parts of the country." "This risk exists," he said, "and everyone must show responsible behavior. If you love Italy, keep social distance."

So on May 4, manufacturers, construction companies and some wholesalers will reopen but with strict security protocols in workplaces. Retailers, museums and libraries open two weeks later, and sports teams resume group training. Restaurants, bars and hairdressers will not reopen until early June.

And, you know, people's freedom of movement is going to be controlled for a while. Visits to relatives will be allowed, but wearing face masks will be required. And masks also have to be worn in closed public places and on public transport. Schools are going to stay closed. And that means for families, it's going to be a really - problem with child care at least until September.

MARTIN: Right. Wow. So Italy's lockdown has been way more intense than anything that we're experiencing here in the U.S. Can you just explain what sorts of restrictions you have been living under along with everyone else there?

POGGIOLI: It's been really restringent (ph). It's very bad. You're allowed to go out only to buy groceries or to pharmacies, for work, health or some urgent need. Everyone has to carry a so-called self-declaration giving the reason why you're out and about. And, you know, the vast majority of Italians have been very observant, but police have issued fines, some of them pretty heavy, for violations of restrictions, including jogging in certain places. And you're also not allowed to take a walk except within 200 yards of your home.

MARTIN: Wow. So what did people make of the prime minister's speech and this plan to start inching towards reopening?

POGGIOLI: Well, the very first to protest were Italian bishops. The new rules say that funerals with not more than 15 people in attendance will be allowed, but the government has kept the ban on celebrating Masses. So immediately after Conte spoke, the bishops' conference issued a scathing statement saying they cannot accept seeing the exercise of freedom of worship be compromised and the faithful must have access to the sacraments. Later, Conte's office said it would come up with a plan that would let worshippers attend services while maintaining social distancing.

It's too early to say how public opinion is reacting, but, you know, as in other countries, there's a very strong tension between those who want to accelerate a return to business as usual and the more cautious ones. It seems the scientists' insistence on caution is prevailing despite - you know, this epidemic is having a devastating impact on the economy. Italy is expected to face its worst recession since World War II.

MARTIN: And, I mean, you mentioned the fact that the prime minister said you still have to social distance because the epidemic could spike again. Is the country prepared to lock down again if that's the case?

POGGIOLI: Well, that's going to be the big question. After two months of sacrifices in lockdown, will Italians continue to live like that? You know, everybody's going to be watching. This has been the longest lockdown in Europe, and everybody's going to be watching how the reopening goes here.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli for us reporting from Rome. Thank you so much, Sylvia. We appreciate it.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.