Italy will allow factories and building sites to reopen from May 4 and permit limited family visits as it prepares a staged end to Europe's longest coronavirus lockdown, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Sunday.
More than two months after the first case of COVID-19 appeared in a small town outside Milan and following weeks of lockdown, Italy is looking ahead to a second phase of the crisis in which it will attempt to restart the economy without triggering a new wave of infections.
"We expect a very complex challenge," Conte said as he outlined the road map to restarting activities put into hibernation since early March. "We will live with the virus and we will have to adopt every precaution possible."
Manufacturers, construction companies and some wholesalers will be allowed to reopen from May 4, followed by retailers two weeks later. Restaurants and bars will be allowed to reopen fully from the beginning of June, although takeaway business will be possible earlier.
"The reopening is allowed on condition that all companies involved strictly respect security protocols in the workplace," Conte said, adding that the reopening would lay the ground for deeper reforms of the economy in the months ahead.
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In addition, parks will be allowed to reopen and limited family visits and funerals with no more than 15 people present will be permitted. But movement between regions remains suspended and people moving about will still have to carry a declaration explaining the reasons for their journeys.
Museums and libraries can reopen from May 18, when sports teams will also be able to resume group training, although Conte said conditions would have to be assessed before any decision on resuming the top-flight Serie A soccer championship.
Schools will remain shut, however, until the start of the new academic year in September, leaving families facing childcare problems for months to come.
The lockdown has put a strain on the euro zone's third-largest economy, which is headed for its worst recession since World War Two. Italian business leaders have called for the restrictions to be eased to head off economic catastrophe.
Conte said the more limited restrictions would likely remain in place until the discovery of an effective vaccine or cure for COVID-19, which is not expected for many months.
On Sunday, Italian authorities reported a third consecutive daily fall in coronavirus fatalities, with 260 deaths, the lowest number since March 14.
Italy's death toll remains the heaviest in Europe, with more than 26,000 dead and almost 200,000 confirmed cases of the respiratory disease. But the number of new cases has been slowing and the number of patients in intensive care has been falling steadily.
Hit hard by the virus weeks before other major Western countries, Italy 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.
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, Conte said in an interview with the daily Repubblica earlier on Sunday.
Rome has introduced a series of measures including state-backed loans to help businesses stay afloat. But some business officials have complained about delays in implementing them.
Conte said the government was monitoring banks to make sure state-guaranteed liquidity arrived in companies in need.He also said the government was working on a series of measures to help the industry by cutting bureaucratic red tape.