Italy Accelerates Lifting of Lockdown as Protests Continue

Police officers wearing masks patrol an empty St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Pope Francis held his weekly general audience in the privacy of his library as the Vatican implemented Italy’s drastic coronavirus lockdown measures, barring the general public from St. Peter’s Square and taking precautions …
AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

ROME — The Italian government has announced that coffee bars, restaurants, hairdressers, retail shops, and other establishments may reopen on May 18 instead of June 1 as previously stipulated.

In recent days, Italy has experienced a rise in public expression of discontent with the extended lockdown, with spontaneous protests forming in piazzas throughout the country. May 18 will also see the end of the obligation to carry the detested “autocertificazione” papers, subject to police verification at random stop-checks.

The decision arose out of a meeting Monday between representatives of the national government and that of the individual regions. The Italian government was quick to reaffirm its control over all activities and its ability to shut down establishments where safety guidelines and protocols are not followed to the letter.

Wearing masks has become the new symbol of compliance with the government, as well as a constant reminder that the state is in charge and things will not go back to normal until authorities say so. Curiously, masks were not required during the first two months of the lockdown when infections were still relatively high, but are now mandatory as other restrictions are eased.

The government said it will also intervene if it is not pleased with data trends regarding the contagion curve, according to criteria defined by a circular from the Ministry of Health.

“The phase of responsibility for the regions begins,” stated the Minister of Autonomies Francesco Boccia.

The timing and methods for reopening borders between Italy’s regions has not yet been determined, ANSA news service reported.

“The Prime Minister has allowed the regions to present a program of openings for the 18th,” said Luca Zaia, president of the Veneto region. “Veneto, with extreme consistency, will present during the week a total restart.”

Zaia said that Mr. Conte had “accepted the regions’ request for autonomy” in the management of phase 2 of the lockdown, which had been made in recent days via a letter from the governors to the premier.

The number of active coronavirus cases in Italy has been in steady decline for the past two weeks and deaths at the national level have slowed to a trickle.

Some of Italy’s regions have been virtually unaffected by the virus from the outset, but until now have been under the same restrictions as the rest of the country.

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