Pope Francis Expresses Concerns over Economic Fallout of Coronavirus Crisis

Pope Francis prays to god
Franco Origlia/Getty Images

ROME — Pope Francis offered special prayers Monday for those who are unable to work and earn money during the coronavirus lockdown affecting Italy and beyond.

“Let us pray today for those persons who are beginning to experience economic problems due to the pandemic, because they cannot work. All of this affects the family,” the pope tweeted Monday.

The majority of Italians have been without work at least since March 9, when Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declared all of the Italian republic a “red zone,” confining people to their homes except for proven need.

Even prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Italy was on the edge of a recession. Not only are most Italians no longer receiving an income, the government itself has seen its own tax revenues slashed as Italy’s number-one industry — tourism — has been suspended indefinitely and its massive manufacturing sector sits idle.

More and more Italians are asking how the nation expects to come out of its present state of lockdown without devastating economic repercussions for millions of citizens.

Some — even on the left — are beginning to question the legitimacy of “the greatest limitation of freedom in the history of the Republic” that was enacted without warning, debate, or parliamentary approval.

From the outset, the coronavirus has been marked by “institutional disorder,” writes Alessandro De Angelis, vice-director of the Italian version of the Huffington Post, with government haphazardly issuing directives drip by drip (like Chinese water torture).

The state reaction to the outbreak has resulted in no clear plan, he writes, but resembles “a distillate of collective anxiety.”

What has many Italians on edge is the “temporal indeterminacy” of the lockdown, De Angelis insists, as officials refuse to assign a date to any return to normalcy.

“The feeling is that a not indifferent political and social ‘experiment’ is being conducted in Italy, at least as a trend of the moment,” writes De Angelis, a self-described “leftist,” where democracy is exercised “as a regime of a leader called to manage the emergency, in a climate in which those who criticize the government are deemed traitors of the homeland in the face of the growing number of the dead, while propaganda by Big Brother is legitimate.”

Only when the crisis has passed will it be possible to evaluate the adequacy of the measures taken and the unprecedented “limitation of fundamental freedoms,” De Angelis laments.

The concerns voiced by Mr. De Angelis echo those expressed by a number of social commentators who suggest that the damage caused by a long-term lockdown could be worse than those of the virus itself.

“If this government-ordered shutdown continues for much more than another week or two, the human cost of job losses and bankruptcies will exceed what most Americans imagine,” the editors of the Wall Street Journal wrote last Thursday. “This won’t be popular to read in some quarters, but federal and state officials need to start adjusting their anti-virus strategy now to avoid an economic recession that will dwarf the harm from 2008-2009.”

The WSJ editors predict that a national shutdown could release “a tsunami of economic destruction that will cause tens of millions to lose their jobs as commerce and production simply cease. Many large companies can withstand a few weeks without revenue but that isn’t true of millions of small and mid-sized firms.”

“Perhaps we will be lucky, and the human and capitalist genius for innovation will produce a vaccine faster than expected—or at least treatments that reduce Covid-19 symptoms,” they observe. “But barring that, our leaders and our society will very soon need to shift their virus-fighting strategy to something that is sustainable.”

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