Apparently having arrived on the “plateau” of the pandemic, Italy has not started the descent but is thinking of restarting it with a government health plan, which warns that a return to normalcy is not for tomorrow. The country, so far the world’s most bereaved by the scourge, on Saturday saw the number of intensive care hospitalizations fall for the first time since the pandemic exploded there more than a month ago.
When will life be able to resume?
The authorities have said repeatedly in recent days, fearing that with the good weather and the Easter holidays there will be a slackening of attitudes: “we must not lower our guard” against the virus.
“We are not in a position to lighten the containment measures”, warned Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in mid-week, informing that Italy would remain at a standstill at least until 13 April.
“The emergency is not over. The danger has not gone away. We still have a few difficult months ahead of us, let’s not spoil the sacrifices made,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza urged on Sunday in an interview with the dailies Il Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica.
The objective is a return to normality “as soon as possible”, the minister added without “giving a date”. And after that? The head of the Civil Protection, Angelo Borrelli, who every evening sheds light on the litany of victims, announced on Friday that the peninsula would still be confined for the May 1st bridge, before specifying that the decision was exclusively the responsibility of the government.
Borrelli also cautiously mentioned 16 May as a possible date for entering a “phase 2”, synonymous with “coexistence with the virus”, but only “if the (pandemic’s) evolution does not change”.
With what health measures?
On Sunday, the health minister outlined a five-point strategic plan “to gradually emerge” from the pandemic, advocating the wearing of masks across the board, “scrupulous social distancing in living and working places” and a system of hospitals dedicated to COVID-19 that will remain open after the crisis to prevent a possible return of the virus.
The government plans to strengthen “local health networks” so that every identified patient can be taken care of from screening to treatment and to test samples from the population to determine the precise number of infected people.
Finally, the executive is considering the implementation of a smartphone application, based on the South Korean model, both to map the movements of patients diagnosed during the 48 hours preceding infection and to promote telemedicine in order, for example, to monitor their heart rate and blood oxygen level at home.
In what order?
“Even when coronavirus cases have fallen to zero, life will not be the same for a long time,” the president of the Higher Institute of Health (ISS), Silvio Brusaferro, warned this week.
With the relaxation of containment measures, the first activities that should resume are those related to the food and pharmaceutical supply chain. This should also be the case for craftsmen whose shops see a limited number of people passing through.
Bars, restaurants, discotheques or sports halls will be the last to reopen and, in due course, their owners are likely to need to provide a safety distance of at least one meter between customers and staff.
Those wishing to return to Italy – currently around 200,000 Italians according to official figures – will have to go into solitary confinement and present a declaration on their honor when boarding a plane or train stating the address where they will have to submit to a quarantine period.
Public transport will have to keep ridership low, which will be made possible by inspectors enforcing a distance between passengers by using only every second seat or by allowing only a limited number of people to board metro, bus or train trains.