Italy's Government's new decree is prudent. We'll tell you what it says.
            
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Dear traveler,

There was great trepidation for last weekend's press conference by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Italy has been under lockdown for just over 40 days now and the pandemic curve started to decline about a week ago (not all regions have the same situation). Several decrees spaced over that time were aimed at safeguarding public health and giving a first response to the economic meltdown. As you know, it was all done under emergency circumstances and people understood what they were asked with all its implications.

 

But that wasn’t the hard part politically. While uncertainty is paramount we cannot just wait and see or hope for the vaccine to be available sooner than possible. The so-called “phase two” or reopening is an incredibly complicated puzzle with lives and the economy at stake.

 

Conte said last week “it is crucial not to get this transition wrong.”

 

The emergency phase had a sure enemy (COVID-19) and a clear goal (saving lives). This new phase does not have an enemy to blame; the virus is just part of the equation. The next decisions clearly lay the foundation for the recovery of the economy. High-level thinking people call it an opportunity to move towards a better and better-funded health system – already one of the best in the world but that showed its limits - and to re-think many aspects of socio-economic life.

 

Mr Colao (head of the task force for this phase and former CEO of Vodafone Europe) pointed out public transportation and how/when people gather is very important. His tech background should soon lead to the adoption of a tracking app. It will be optional, without personal data collection. Because of the nature of it, at least 60 to 70% of the Italian population (about 50 Million) will need to start using it for it to work (lots of data is needed). It’s not a first because South Korea and China have already done something similar.

 

Many feared an extension of the emergency restrictions but that was unlikely and against public opinion (the lockdown was already extended twice). People have had it and they would have stopped complying. But what people really feared was more uncertainty and unclear guidelines. Draconian measures were needed at first and they worked for the most part but it is unavoidable that phase two involves the end of the lockdown and the reopening of business. And in fact Mr. Conte said just that, but the how and the when are crucial.

 

The decree was very prudent and did not provide a clear roadmap for summer travel. Commentators are calling it a phase 1.5 to be generous and very far from a real new phase with reopening at its core. It was obvious that it is too early to call the virus defeated.

 

Here’s a summary:

  • Conte said that we will be coexisting with the virus for the foreseeable future and that it could come back in certain areas. The most important aspect remains people’s behavior: social distancing of at least one meter and no gatherings.
  • It’s going to be a monitoring phase of “try and learn” ready to take action with re-tightening measures if the numbers start climbing again.
  • Prices of masks are going to be fixed (0.50 Euro for the surgical ones)  and no VAT tax will be applied.
  • Starting on May 4th people will be able to move within their region with masks and respecting social distancing. However, anyone with symptoms must stay home and alert the local health authorities.
  • Parks and public gardens will open and the local municipalities are responsible for limiting access when needed.
  • Outdoor Sports: it will be allowed to practice outdoor sports respecting a distance of at least two meters. I read a note from the Italian Cycling Federation that they would be more comfortable with 10 meters (30+ ft). That would make large group riders strangely different.
  • Schools are closed until September (new academic year). The rest of the school year and final exams will be via video calls. Allegedly, everyone will pass.
  • Indoor Sports: Only professional athletes, national team athletes and others training for championships and Olympics can start training indoors. All gyms, dance studios, swimming pools, etc are otherwise still closed.
  • Churches are closed except for funerals with a maximum of 15 people. This is a controversial point and it was challenged. Roman Catholic bishops wrote to Mr. Conte to protest against the continued ban on church services. However, Pope Francis (leaning more towards the govt's position) mediated a final compromise.
  • Bars and restaurants, gelato places and pastry shops are closed until June 1st except for delivery and take out. Salons and spas, barbers and hairdressers will have to wait until June as well. After that, they’ll have to be able to guarantee social distancing and their revenue will suffer because of it. 
  • Manufacturing: Can reopen on May 4th (prep work started on April 27th) with safety protocols on social distancing and workplace disinfection.

 

In other words, it is a lighter lockdown. True to endemic Italian bureaucracy, a paper certification will still be needed each time you go out. Hardly laughable given that people are struggling in so many other ways.

Regions will report daily on the situation and the task force sets the thresholds beyond which they’ll get back at the steering wheel with new measures.

 

On May 18th museums can reopen and team sports training can resume with social distancing unchanged.

 

Final Thoughts

On Monday Italy showed the lowest epidemic spread numbers since March 10th. All regions expect four have fewer than 100 active cases and several have only been reporting one new daily case. More rural regions such as Basilicata, Molise, Calabria, and Sardinia have hardly seen any cases and they’ve never felt under emergency. That paints a varied picture of the Italian peninsula. Something to consider when travel resumes soon.

The feedback that I am getting is a mix of disappointment and anger. The general rule is at least one meter ( about 3 ft) of social distancing and masks. No gatherings for another month and even then any event will strictly be under social distancing rules. For how long? No one knows.

 

The direction is that of prudence. So, why the disappointment? A few reasons:

  • What was left out: nothing about the medical aspects and cures, nothing on the app (according to today’s polls the minimum of users will be reached)
  • No clear path on what happens next
  • Very little liquidity injected to help the economy

 

People are still afraid of being infected or of infecting loved ones (parents and grandparents mostly) but the anxiety of an uncertain future is taking a huge psychological toll. Not because staying home is hard but because we don’t see the end of it and we are still psychologically unprepared to cope with this. There are exceptions: I am hearing of friends that have not had this much time together with their families.

They are getting to know their children better. A friend said he is getting to know his wife and that “she is a fine person."  It took Corona to realize it!

 

Better socio-economic measures would have helped digesting this lockdown extension. People want/need to get back to work.

In the press conference, Conte spoke of “important aids to the tourism sector” but those aren’t in this decree. We often refer to tourism as the Italian goldmine or the Italian oil. That is rhetorical until you realize that without any decent tourism policy tourism accounts for 13/15% of Italian GDP and that we could do much, much better. What you might not realize is that Italy is very well positioned for welcoming tourism after the emergency allows it. There are many gems in lesser known provinces and many rural areas from the Apennine Mountains to Sardinia, to Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily’s inland or the Aeolian islands. Tourissimo can show you a side of Italy that under normal circumstances hardly gets noticed.

We'll be in touch after May 4th to let you know how things are going.

Beppe and Heather