GP Insights # 355, 16 May 2020
On 16 May the government in Italy signed a decree that will allow travel to and from the country from 3 June. The eases in lockdown measures, reopening of economy and inter-regional travel mark a major step forward by the country that became Europe's epicentre in the COVID-19 contagion just three months back.
What is the background?
First, the economy in shambles. Italy became the first European country to impose the strictest lockdown measures in its north-western province of Lombardy and Milan in February. Since then the country has had one of the highest death tolls in the world, with a crumbling economy, shattering tourism industry and a population at home counting coffins every day.
Second, the drop in infection rates. More than 31,600 people have died with the virus in the country, and its health infrastructure is still recuperating from the dreaded wave of infections. However, the infection rate in the country has fallen sharply in recent days. This was followed by relaxation and opening of factories and parks on 4 May. On 10 May the government approved a 55 billion Euro stimulus package planned to offset the economic impact of the pandemic on businesses and families.
What does it mean?
The easing of lockdown and travel allowance tell the tales of resilience, healing and the sacrifices for survival. The survival has, however, come at a cost. First, Italy faces the worst recession since the Second World War that is impacting the welfare measures, the employment and the health infrastructure in the country. Being the third-largest economy in recession in Europe, Italy's decision to allow travel is to gradually wear off the shocks as tourism continues to increase in the summer.
Second, the tourism industry now stares at imposing a new normal with physical distancing and mandatory wearing of masks. However, the high cost will still have to be borne by the pizza restaurant chains that remains one of the core contributors to the economy of the country. Third, a society in whose centre gatherings and loud greetings are norms will now have to adjust to new ways of social bonding with physical distancing. It remains to be seen how the post-pandemic order impacts intra-community behaviours as much as inter-community discrimination, othering and racism continues.