Italy’s Conte vows to reopen schools in September

The country will ease its way out of the world’s longest active coronavirus lockdown at the end of April

ROME • Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte vowed yesterday to reopen schools by September and allow many businesses to resume in a week’s time as the country emerges from a near-total shutdown.

Conte told La Repubblica newspaper that he will spell out the full details of how Italy will ease its way out of the world’s longest active coronavirus lockdown by the start of this week.

He has reportedly been presented with a cautious proposal that involves a gradual lifting of restrictions over the course of May.

Italy’s official death toll of 26,384 (at press time) is Europe’s highest and only second globally to the US. But its number of cases has been

ebbing and Italy believes its contagion rate — reported at between 0.2 and 0.7 — is low enough below the key threshold of 1.0 to try and get back to work.

“We cannot continue beyond this lockdown — we risk damaging the country’s socioeconomic fabric too much,” Conte told La Repubblica.

Italy gradually closed everything over the first half of March as it became increasingly clear that an initial batch of cases in northern areas around Milan was spreading.

Scientists now believe that Italy’s infections probably began in January — if not earlier — and the virus was running rampant by the time the first official Covid-19 death was recorded on Feb 21.

But Italy’s healthcare system held the line and Conte now appears to feel safe enough to focus on mending an economy that his team expects to shrink by 8% this year. He said his government will “allow a large number of companies” to restart on May 4.

Italy’s schools were closed before most other businesses and will now be one of the last to reopen. He said the return to school was filled with peril because many teachers were older and at greater risk of catching the virus.

“Schools are at the centre of our attention and will reopen in September,” the premier said. Conte explained that resuming tuition before then involved “a very high risk of contagion”.

Many Italians are most concerned about when they will finally be able to walk in parks and jog without being stopped and fined by the police.

Italy’s stay at home orders were announced nationally on March 9 and require everyone to stay within about a block of their front door.

Many have turned their roofs into improvised gyms and even tennis courts in a collective effort to avoid going stir crazy. — AFP