Italians Visit Relatives For The First Time In Nine Weeks As Europe Stirs Back To Life

People in Italy are now free to walk outside and visit their loved ones for the first time in nine weeks as Europe’s worst-hit country pulls the breaks on the world’s longest COVID-19 lockdown.

Four million people around 72% of whom are men are going back to their construction workplaces as the struggling country tries to get back on its feet.

Restaurants that have been able to stay afloat during the pandemic are now reopening for takeaway service.

However, ice cream shops and bars are to remain shut.

Using public transportation is not recommended and people must wear masks indoors when in public spaces.

The Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus originates, was the first place to be put under lockdown back on January 23. The lockdown lasted 76 days.

A few weeks later, Italy became the first Western country to implement a nationwide lockdown as the illness started claiming thousands of lives.

After the first wave of infections started overwhelming Milan and the provinces around, on March 8, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte put a quarter of the population in lockdown.

As the new rules cast fear into the hearts of people, many chose to flee to less affected places in the southern parts of Italy.

Eventually, the prime minister was forced to implement a nationwide shutdown as the pandemic started affecting more and more areas of the country.

“Today is our moment of responsibility,” he told his fellow countrymen. “We cannot let our guard down.”

Back then the official death toll was less than a thousand people, but harsher restrictions were implemented as hundreds of people began dying every day.

Almost all businesses except for pharmacies and grocery stores were forced to close down in the country on March 12.

On March 22, the prime minister ordered the closing of all non-essential factories.

Five days after, Italy’s highest single toll of 969 was reported.

The economic consequences of the lockdown measures have been devastating for the country of 60 million.

Forecasts predict that Italy’s economy will shrink more than ever before since the global Depression of the 1930s.

Half of Italy’s working people are receiving financial support from the government and the same number told a top pollster that they feared unemployment.

Giuseppe Conte’s handling of the situation had been widely supported, but an April Demos poll found that it has started to go down, slipping by 8% since March.

Due to Italy’s strongly decentralized system, which allows every region to come up with its own rules, reopenings have seen major complications.

This is the reason why, for instance, the Genoa area is thinking of reopening its beaches for small groups of people, while Venice’s Veneto and the southern Calabria regions have been serving customers at bars and restaurants with outdoor seating for a week now.

Meanwhile, Emilia-Romagna is keeping things closed, even to people who live near the sea.

Needless to say, all of this has badly affected the country’s psyche.

A recent poll showed that 62% of Italians believe they will require psychological help when facing a post lockdown world.

“The night of the virus continues,” Ilvo Diamanti, a leading sociologist, wrote in La Repubblica daily.

“And you can hardly see the light on the horizon. If anything, we’re getting used to moving in the dark.”

Meanwhile, the leaders of Spain, whose lockdown was similar to that of Italy, apologized to all children for having to be stuck in their homes since March.

Spanish children were able to once again play outside after a six-week-long lockdown on April 26, while adults started enjoying walks and exercise outdoors.

Small businesses, including hair salons, started accepting customers by individual appointments last Monday, and takeout service was resumed by restaurants and bars.

However, the streets are still mostly empty, and police have given out free face masks to the few people who use the metro in Madrid.

“We are all afraid,”  31-year-old Cristina Jimenez, said while goin out of Madrid’s Sol metro station with her mask and gloves on.

“Who hasn’t lost their job already may lose it in the next few months,” she said.

“But what is important is that we are well. With work, you can always find another.”

In Germany, some of the smaller shops were reopened on April 20.

Ramazan Uzun, 27, who works as a barber in Berlin and whose business was allowed to reopen last Monday said:

“We have a lot of appointments for today — actually, for the whole week,” 

However, he did not seem to be in favor of easing restrictions, which has permitted places of worship, museums, zoos, and playgrounds to open their doors as well.

“I live with my parents, who are old, and it would be good to be able to go home without having to worry.”

In Austria, schools reopened all across the country, but only the oldest students are allowed to prepare for their graduation exams this month.

Citizen Lea Karner was excited about this, saying:

“I am really happy because I can see my friends again, and I can just concentrate a lot better at school than I can at home”

“And I am happy to see my teachers again.”

She also added that she had to argue with her mother and little brother about using the family’s only laptop.

“It was very tiring,” Lea said.

In Belgium, the front doors of buses are shut and the front parts of buses are chained off in order to protect drivers from getting infected by the virus as people started getting back to work to their offices.

Bot not many were those who chose to roam around in what is a country that has one of the highest mortality rates per capita in the world from COVID-19.

The people who do use public transportation are wearing protective masks.

“I am happy to be able to leave my house again,” architect Jean-Baptiste Bernard, 27, said as he walked out of the Schuman metro station.

He said this was his first time out since March 18. He also said that working from home was an “intense” experience he would not want to repeat:

“I am fed up with confinement” 

The majority of offices in Belgium have now gotten back to business, but its shops will remain closed until May 11.

Restrictions are also being lifted in Eastern Europe.

In Serbia, restaurants have reopened, while Croatia reopened businesses involving face to face contact with customers, such as hair salons.

“I never imagined that such a small thing could bring so much pleasure.” musician Nebojsa Marovic, 42, said while enjoying the sun on the terrace of his favourite cafe in Belgrade.

Over in Slovenia, life is also going back to normal and businesses are reopening, even though face masks are still mandatory in public spaces across all those countries.

“I now realise that it is these little things we too often take for granted that really make life so precious,” Marovic said.

In Greece, citizen Alexis Protopappas said that he was getting sick of looking “like a bear” as he went to get his haircut at a barbershop in Athens, which recently reopened its bookshops and number of other businesses.

“I look forward to going out and resuming my social life,” Alexis said.

However, just a few businesses reopened on Monday.

Nikos Kontos, an electric equipment shop owner said:

“Those who are out working today are mostly exhausted by the confinement” 

What are your thoughts on these developments? Let us know by joining the conversation in the comments and please share this article to spread the positive news.

Sources: France24, RTE

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