Italy begins to grapple with how to ease virus restrictions

SOAVE, ITALY (AP) — With warmer weather beckoning, Italians are straining against a strict lockdown to halt the coronavirus that is just now showing signs of ebbing at the end of five weeks of mass isolation.

Italy was the first Western democracy to be hit by the virus, and it has been leading the official global death toll with 19,468 victims through Saturday. Now it is likely to set an example of how to lift broad restrictions that have imposed the harshest peacetime limits on personal freedom and shut down all nonessential industry.

Right now, schools are closed and children are not permitted to play in parks. Walks outdoors are limited to a distance of 200 metres (less than a quarter-mile) and any excursion not strictly a matter of necessity risks hefty fines.

The official line is patience with measures that have shown success in slowing the virus spread, until there is a clear decline in the number of new cases. Still, officials have begun grappling with the question of how to manage social distancing on mass transit, re-open ordinary commerce and relaunch manufacturing without risking another peak.

The so-called Phase II is being described as a cautious reopening, as society continues to live alongside the virus until a vaccine can be developed, perhaps in 12 to 18 months.

“We obviously don’t want to delude ourselves that everything will change,” Premier Giuseppe Conte told Italians this week.

Italian soldiers patrol by closed shops due to lockdown measure to prevent the spread of Covid-19, in Milan, Italy. PHOTO: AP