ROME (Reuters) – Italian shops, hairdressers and restaurants finally threw open their doors on Monday as the country sped up efforts to bounce back from the coronavirus crisis after a 10-week lockdown.
Customers could once again sip their morning cappuccino at the bar, albeit well spaced from other clients, and public Masses were allowed again in churches after bishops put pressure on the government to sanction religious services.
“I haven’t worked for two and a half months. It’s a beautiful, exciting day,” said Valentino Casanova, a barman in Caffe Canova in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo.
Almost 32,000 Italians have died of COVID-19 since the outbreak came to light on Feb. 21, the third-highest death toll in the world after the United States and Britain.
Italy was the first European country to impose nationwide restrictions in early March, only permitting an initial relaxation of the rules on May 4, when it allowed factories and parks to reopen.
Monday marked a major step forward on the road to recovery, with unlimited travel allowed in individual regions, friends once again meeting up and restaurants able to serve as long as tables were at least 2 metres (6.5 ft) apart.
Telephones rang incessantly in hairdresser salons, as unkempt clients rushed to make themselves more presentable.
“I already have 150 appointments, all very urgent, all of them insisting that they must be first on the list,” said Stefania Ziggiotto, a hairdresser in the Alpine resort of Courmayeur. “I have a full agenda for three weeks.”
However, many business owners worried that the reopening might not magic away their many problems, with lingering fears of the coronavirus keeping many Italians at home, while foreign tourists, vital for the economy, were utterly absent.
The government has said it will open up Italy’s borders with Europe and allow free travel between the regions from June 3, but no-one expects a sudden influx of outsiders.
Monica Robaldo, owner of the Pierre Alexis 1877 restaurant in Courmayeur, said she would not reopen before the end of May.
“We have a loyal clientele … mostly tourists, so while travel between the regions and from abroad is not allowed, there is not much point in reopening,” she said.
The Treasury is predicting the economy will contract by at least 8% in 2020, the deepest recession since World War Two, and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said at the weekend he was taking a “calculated risk” in rolling back the rigid curbs.
Although there was noticeably more traffic on the roads of major cities on Monday morning, some people appeared hesitant to resume their old habits.
Angelo Lombardo, owner of Cocco Caffe in the northern city of Bologna, is allowed to serve a maximum four customers at any one time, but he said he wasn’t having to worry about social distancing rules at present.
“A lot of people are just walking past and looking in from outside wondering whether they can come in or not,” he said, criticising the government for doing too little to explain how the rules had changed.
“Let’s give it time,” he said. “It’s the first day.”
(Reporting by Crispian Balmer, Giulio Piovaccari; Stephen Jewkes and Gabriele Pileri; Editing by Nick Macfie)