Europe begins to reopen cautiously despite fears of new epidemic

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“There will be many more possible contagion opportunities, which we can only avoid with an even greater sense of responsibility,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte wrote on social media the day before the restrictions were lifted.

The Italians were able to recover some basic freedoms – including the possibility of exercising outdoors. They could also travel to an area to visit relatives.

The measures taken by Italy are only part of a wider reopening across Europe. In Germany, several classes resumed classes on Monday. France plans to resume schooling next week.

But this is hardly a return to normal. In Italy, movements between regions remain very limited. Schools and most retail stores remain closed. It is hoped that restaurants and bars can resume sitting service on June 1, but this decision will depend on the spread of the virus in the coming weeks.

For many, the persistent restrictions – and uncertainty about their duration – have sparked signs of frustration. Restaurateurs are worried about running out of money and closing permanently. The question of how to fully reopen has caused friction between Conte and regional governments, some demanding a faster pace.

But Italy is plagued by the scale of the epidemic. There are 100,000 reported cases of coronavirus in the country. A government science panel, studying various reopening scenarios, found that without school closings and continued widespread teleworking, Italian hospitals would once again be overwhelmed.

“There isn’t much room for reopening,” said the report, shared by the newspaper La Repubblica.

The country currently plans to restart retail stores and museums on May 18. But experts also fear that the virus will reappear. Italy has established guidelines – including the rate of virus transmission and the capacity of regional hospitals – that would reactivate locks in emerging hotspot areas.

The danger is most immediate for the northern regions, which were the hardest hit by the first wave of the virus, and which happen to be the most industrialized areas.

“Most of the 4.5 million people who return to work live in regions with less control of the epidemic,” said Nino Cartabellotta, public health researcher, president of the Gimbe Foundation.

Morris reported from Berlin.

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