ROME — Italy’s Minister of Education Lucia Azzolina announced Wednesday afternoon that due to the coronavirus outbreak, as of Thursday all schools and universities in the country will be closed at least until March 15.
The decision was reportedly made during a meeting between Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and government ministers and echoes measures already in effect in the northern regions of Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia Romagna.
In defense of the ruling, the president of the national association of school principals, Antonello Giannelli, said that closing the nation’s schools represents “an unprecedented decision,” but the priority is and must be “public health.”
Normally demonstrative Italians woke up Wednesday to newspaper headlines that their government is urging a temporary moratorium on handshakes and hugs, while also shutting down conferences and sporting events. In public offices, people are urged to maintain a distance of at least 1.5 meters (5 feet) by means of official posted notices.
Most of the American students from Italy’s numerous study-abroad programs have already flown back to the United States and many of the programs scheduled for later in the spring are preparing for long-distance, online courses in place of site visits and face-to-face learning.
The Italian government is still debating how to address the huge economic fallout from the coronavirus, since the country was already facing a major economic crisis bordering on recession.
Meanwhile, plenty of political maneuvering is in evidence as the media spotlight shines brightly on Italy’s non-elected center-left government and its response to the emergency.
The leader of the center-right Lega party, Matteo Salvini, has urged the allocation of financial aid “for parents who work and have difficulties with their children at home with closed schools.”
“Either you are working on a measure such as exceptional parental leave, which in my opinion is the best solution,” said Giorgia Meloni of the Fratelli d’Italia party, “or you are studying a measure to give families an economic reimbursement for help, for example with babysitters.”