On May 4th,  after 56 days of quarantine due to the spread of coronavirus, Italy finally decided to suspend the lockdown and proceed with phase 2 of reopening. The government had to come up with a strategy to preserve citizens’ health and simultaneously avoid an irreversible collapse of the country’s economy.  Phase 2 arrived in a period when retailers and the general population were concerned and frustrated due to the immobilization provoked by the lockdown. The main difference between the lockdown phase and phase 2 seems to be the autonomy every Italian region wants to have from the government. The state played a central role during the quarantine to keep the virus from spreading as much as possible but now the need for independence in each region can be clearly perceived, as well as the willingness to reactivate the  economy and reopen businesses.  However, what should have been a gradual return to “normality” turned out to be a race to pick up where we left off. 

Although the reopening of businesses has been progressive, all has happened in a very short timeframe. In Emilia Romagna, in northern Italy, we witnessed the reopening of museums, libraries, beauty salons (from 18th May), pools and gyms (from 25th May), and cinemas and theaters (from 15th June). Restaurants and bars are offering delivery and takeout  and are adapting to reopening their doors to customers making sure there is enough distance between tables and taking full advantage of outdoor spaces like dehors and terraces. On June 3rd, Italy reopened its borders to travelers coming from the Schengen area and to allow travel between regions as long as their body temperature didn’t exceed 99.5 °F.  

Rome, Italy, May 18 — The owners of a still empty restaurant in the center of Rome near the Roman Pantheon await customers and tourists after the end of the two months restrictions imposed by the lockdown for the Covid-19 crisis and the general reopen.

Starting on  May 4th, wearing a face mask and staying 1 meter (a little over 3 feet) away from other people became the standard procedure for going out and having a social life. It’s mandatory to follow this procedure when entering  an indoor public place, when travelling by public transport, during working hours, and when meeting relatives and friends. Outdoor and sport activities do not require wearing a mask unless it’s not possible to keep a 1-meter distance but you must always have one with you. If your body temperature is above 99.5 °F, it’s compulsory to stay home. 

We are facing a new and coronavirus-threat-adapted way of living, consisting of social distancing and a need to establish new ways of interacting with each other. We are wrong-footed by the impossibility to hug a friend or by the new gestures born because of social distancing (hand-shaking is banned). Picking a fashionable face mask has become equal to choosing which shoes to wear. We are now stay-in-a-queue world-champions and before going out we check if we have a face-mask and hand sanitizing gel in addition to the phone, wallet, and keys triad. We are adapting to going back to work every other week to avoid crowded offices and to replace train/metro commuting by bikes and push scooters. Companies’ cafeterias are also trying to figure out which approach best fits their needs: suspend the service, make employees eat in shifts or deliver meals to their desk. Even the way we used to go shopping has changed: There are lines at the entrance, hand sanitizing gel before entering the shops, gloves to avoid touching all the goods, and disposable socks in case you try on shoes.

Hand holding (DIY) homemade surgical fabric mask for protection against coronavirus (COVID-19) and other infectious diseases. With several other colored masks on white background
Picking a fashionable face mask has become equal to choosing which shoes to wear

The government’s strategy to stop the virus spreading and prevent new infections consists of three actions: testing, tracing, and treating.

Testing: all people found with a body temperature above 99.5 °F are sent home and quarantined. The government, the Italian Red Cross, and the Italian National Statistics Institute collaborated to launch a huge seroprevalence study that started on May 25th. This study involves 150,000 people randomly chosen across Italy to understand how many people developed antibodies against Coronavirus, even if they were asymptomatic. People are reached by phone and are given a free blood test and a survey, but participation is not mandatory. In Emilia Romagna there is also the chance to take a serological test voluntarily with a doctor’s prescription and upon payment of a fee. 

Tracing: On June 1st, Italy released a smartphone app called “Immune” for contact tracing, although there were concerns about different aspects, first of all people’s privacy. The use of this app is not mandatory and those who won’t use it won’t be prevented from entering public places.  

Treating: affected patients are reached as fast as possible and given treatment to keep the disease in a non-serious stage.

Despite all the rules and regulations made, one paradox immediately catches the eye: there aren’t enough people in charge of assuring that all the rules are respected, there isn’t a clear hierarchy that establishes, for example, if a bar owner is also in charge of supervising what is going on outside its shop in addition to ensuring their business complies with safety rules. (As I wrote this article, the government was working on a project involving around 60,000 volunteers to perform public utility and surveillance tasks during Phase 2). Teenagers and and those under thirty-five, seem less worried and less aware of the ongoing danger and are more inclined to resume social habits, to wander around cities and to create crowds, mining in this way all the efforts made. It has become clear that people are now less concerned about the virus spreading but more concerned about what the future will look like. This shifting in worries is probably due to the exit from the quarantine bubble and to the return to “normal life” rhythms. Italians are feeling the weight of the economic crisis and of the difficult working situation. Surverys show that for a vast number  of business owners the fear of bankruptcy is bigger than that of becoming infected with the coronavirus . The future looks like a sword of Damocles swinging between the need to overcome our fears to re-build an economy as solid as possible and a latent worry due to these uncertain times.