Italy to ease lockdown, reopen businesses

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Italy, the first European country to be hard-hit by the coronavirus, will allow some businesses to reopen as soon as this week.

The country aims to reopen manufacturing and construction from May 4, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said.

Conte gave detailed outline of plans to reopen the economy, in a newspaper interview published on Sunday ahead of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, which he said would be released no later than early this week.

Italy, hit hard by the virus weeks before other major Western countries, has been forced to serve as a model for how to fight it. It is being closely watched around the world as it takes its early steps to chart a path out of a strict lockdown it imposed in early March.

Conte described a phased process that would see much of manufacturing restarted in early May, although businesses frequented by the general public such as bars and restaurants would have to wait a bit longer. Schools would remain shut until September.

“We are working in these hours to allow the reopening of a good part of businesses from manufacturing to construction for May 4,” Conte said.

Some businesses deemed “strategic”, including activity that was mainly export-oriented, could reopen this week providing they get the go ahead from local prefects.

Exporting companies need to resume activity sooner to reduce the risk of being cut out of the production chain and losing business, he said.

“We can’t prolong any further this lockdown… we would risk seriously undermining the socio-economic fabric of the country,” Conte added.

Gradual Restart

The Italian President reiterated that any restart would have to be gradual, and said companies would have to introduce strict health safety measures before opening their doors.

Newspapers have said industries where the contagion risk is low, such as manufacturing and wholesale businesses, would be allowed to open on May 4. Retailers could then reopen on May 11 and bars and restaurants on May 18, under tough conditions.

The lockdown has put a strain on the euro zone’s third largest economy and Italian business leaders have called for the restrictions to be eased to head off economic catastrophe.

Rome has introduced a series of measures including state-backed loans to help businesses stay afloat. But some businessmen have complained about delays in implementing them.

Conte said the government was monitoring banks to make sure state-guaranteed liquidity arrived to companies in need.

He also said the government was working on a series of measures to help industry by cutting bureaucratic red tape.

Asked about schools, Conte said the plan was to reopen them in September. But he added studies showed the risk of contagion was very high. Teaching remotely is working well, he said.