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World

Italians Come Out Of The Lockdown To Find Country Devastated By The Coronavirus

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today in Italy, the lockdown is letting up after eight weeks of restrictions. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports that Italians are emerging from their homes cautiously, discovering a new and unfamiliar world.

(SOUNDBITE OF HUMMING)

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: This is the new sound of post-confinement Rome - a mild hum of cars, buses and motorbikes noticeably lighter than before the pandemic. There are some people walking along sidewalks. But the magnificent Piazza Navona is empty. Tufts of grass growing between the cobblestones are the visible result of eight weeks without pedestrians. In a nearby street, one of the few places open is a bike shop. Only repairs are allowed; no retail sales yet to avoid crowding. Owner Danilo Colalti agrees with the government's pace in reopening.

DANILO COLALTI: (Speaking Italian).

POGGIOLI: "It's right to go very slowly to make sure the pandemic gets under control. There's no question," says Colalti, "we're facing a new world, and we're going to have to get used to new habits and different behavior." Some 4 1/2 million Italians are back at work, mostly in manufacturing, wholesale and on construction sites. Parks have reopened. But like everywhere, social distancing is required, as are face masks in indoor public spaces and on public transport.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

POGGIOLI: At the Campo de' Fiori outdoor vegetable market, there are very few stalls. Each is at a safe distance from the other and cordoned off to allow only one customer at a time. Yet there are hardly any shoppers. Nevertheless, stall owner Sonia Proietta is happy the lockdown is ending and she's amazed how well Italians adapted to the changes undergone in confinement.

SONIA PROIETTA: The changes in relationship with friends because we are not used not to stay close to the people. And to keeping their distance, for us, it's something terrible - really terrible.

POGGIOLI: In Tuscany in the town of Lucca, cafes have only now opened for takeout. Tessa Wiechmann was thrilled when she went to her favorite breakfast haunt and smelled the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.

TESSA WIECHMANN: And it was such a strong emotion, I burst into tears out of joy for having made it through these 60-plus days and without losing anybody that was extremely close to me. And just that smell of a cappuccino and of a fresh pastry was the best gift I could have hoped for.

POGGIOLI: Wiechmann works as a translator and interpreter, but the pandemic has canceled all events she was contracted for this year. At first, she says, the lockdown felt like an imposition. Gradually, it turned into a protective cocoon.

WIECHMANN: I woke up this morning missing the silence, which in the weeks went from being a very eerie and threatening silence to a wonderful silence where we got to listen to each other and listen to nature more. So hopefully we won't squander these eight weeks.

POGGIOLI: Without the help of humans, says Wiechmann, nature has taken over, bringing an explosion of wildflowers, never-before-seen fish swimming in the stream and herons in the Lucca city center.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.