From the moment Prime Minister Conte extended restrictions and declared the whole of Italy a ‘red zone’ on March 8th, public opinion was divided: those who thought the emergency measures were too drastic, and those who argued that the lockdown should have been stricter, like that of China.
Now, over a month and a series of extensions later, the situation proves to be more complex than ever. Italy’s economy reflects the reprecussions of shutdowns, and the government works on establishing the proper precautions in preparation for a ‘Phase 2’.
Face masks are obligatory in some cities and regions such as Tuscany, while they are optional in others. Limitations on daily activities, shopping or exercising, or the distance you are allowed to walk from your house, depend on the region you live in.
The question remains, is the decision- making on a local administrative level, and the responsibilities left to them, the right course?
With politics getting in the way, and the tension between the government and the opposition getting worse, citizens’ trust in public administrations is weakening.
There is no denying the difference between regions when it comes to the number of new coronavirus cases. Lombardy remains the most affected area, with a slowly diminishing curve, while others such as Basilicata or Molise, have hardly registered any new cases. At the moment, different parts of the country have different needs, and ideally, the reopening would take into consideration these varying circumstances.
Another critical issue that the country will be facing with ‘Phase 2’, which is expected to start on May 4th, will be how to protect these corona-safe areas that have lower percentages of infection.
Since right now the national government decree bans people from traveling without a valid reason (mostly emergency or work purposes), it is possible to contain the spread of the virus. However, the country has not forgotten the ‘exodus to the South’ that happened on March 7th, just hours after news of the lockdown spread. Presuming that the travel ban will be lifted, the possibility of yet another mass escape from the North is no small worry.
Many southern regions such as Campania and Sicily might implement obligatory self-isolation periods for those arriving from highly- infected areas, just as they had enforced before the lockdown became nationwide.
On a more extreme note, on March 23rd, Messina’s mayor De Luca had closed down the ports, blocking all sea transportation to protect his city from those that might carry the virus. A radical decision he made without the approval of the Ministry of the Interior.
Various declarations came from other mayors all over southern Italy, asking those coming from the North to ‘go home,’ some of them published angry video announcements, making international headlines.
With the amount of power held on regional levels still in a grey area during this emergency, and many of them challenging the national government decree, measures similar to those in Messina are not off the table. Therefore, it remains uncertain whether Italians will be allowed to travel as they wish throughout the country.
The extension of the national decree, that limits free movement in the country, could potentially be enough to protect further contamination in southern regions. Still, it might be considered too extreme by the opposition (for its economic ramifications), as well as many of the citizens that would like the freedom to ‘go back to normal’.
Many Italians have vacation or familial homes in coastal or country towns that they would like to travel to, especially as summer approaches. These beach towns are usually packed - especially on weekends- starting from April/May, which means crowds and additional risk for the spread of the virus.
People were found barbecuing communally on roofs, or visiting each other ‘secretly’ over Easter weekend, even though police were strictly enforcing measures.
Citizens are expected to attempt similar scenarios over the weekends of April 25th and May 1st despite the ongoing lockdown, which also raises concerns on how things might completely get out of hand when restrictions are lifted, and people will be ‘allowed’ to socialize.
The behaviour of careless individuals cannot be attributed to the whole country. However, such actions pose a danger for those who abide by the rules.
One thing is certain: the next steps will need to be taken carefully, and the government faces a daunting decision, taking into account both economic and cultural factors, hoping to strike a balance between freedom and risk.
The ongoing changes made by local administrations, and differing regulations across the country, create confusion for the public as well as businesses that are looking to get back on their feet.
Italians have high hopes that by May 4th the government will address all of these issues, and give the country a much-needed push to start to get back on track.
Only time will tell if the upcoming decree will meet the expectations on a national level, or if we will be stuck in a ‘game of regions’ for many, many months to come.