Fearful but impatient, Italy edges toward end of lockdown

ROME (AFP) – Italians debated yesterday their first cautious steps out of a coronavirus lockdown that has left an estimated half of the working population seeking government support.

The Mediterranean country has been filled with rumours and speculation about when people will finally be allowed to walk the streets freely for the first time since early March.

The balmy weather is not helping government efforts to keep everyone inside in the face of a disease that has officially killed 23,227 in Italy – second only to the United States (US).

The number of daily fines for illegal outdoor activity is rising and police are setting up barricades along roads leading to the beaches on the western outskirts of Rome.

The growing sense that weeks of confinement were ending forced an unnamed source in Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s office to tell media that “nothing will change”.

But some officials seem to think that extending the strictest lockdown measures beyond their May 3 deadline might simply not work.

The daily death rate has fallen to half of what it was at the peak of the crisis and people – feeling less frightened but more stir crazy – may simply start going out.

“We must give citizens greater freedom of movement,” Deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri said on Saturday. Conte gave little of the game away in one of his characteristic late-night Facebook posts on Saturday.

He said some activities will be allowed to resume “according to a well-structured programme that balances the need to protect people’s health with the need to resume production”.

Covered markets are allowed to continue working during the coronavirus outbreak in Italy. PHOTO: AP