It’s one of Mr Blue-Shirt’s favourite Italian phrases and means ‘a few steps’. And nearly nine weeks since the whole of Italy went into almost total lockdown to try and halt the relentless advance of coronavirus, the country is about to take ‘pochi passi’ towards lifting some of the restrictions that have kept us all confined to our homes since early March.
Only once all the daily data on testing rates, infection rates, fatalities and hospital discharges had steadily been moving in the right direction for a good couple of weeks did the government feel ready to announce on 26th April a comprehensive timetable for a very cautious, phased re-opening of the country over the course of the coming month – and all still subject to there being no significant spike in new cases. Now that the infection rate is consistently falling by over five hundred a day, the recovery rate has risen to around three thousand a day, and fatalities have fallen from over nine hundred a day at the start of the lockdown to well below three hundred a day, we will, as of tomorrow, be able to travel beyond the confines of our commune (while still remaining within the region, however) for reasons other than work, health or an emergency. Social distancing rules will still apply, of course, masks must be worn on public transport and wherever social distancing is not feasible, and everyone will still need to carry with them a document stating the reason for their outing, unless they are going to work or for a walk.
Public parks will re-open and – big ‘hurrah!’ from both of us – individuals will be permitted to go more than just a couple of hundred metres from home to take outdoor exercise – indeed, Le Marche’s regional government has issued an ordinance that specifically permits people to visit the beach for this purpose, although stopping for a chat with anyone or congregating with others is expressly prohibited. People will be able to visit members of their immediate family – although large family gatherings will remain forbidden, as will meeting up with friends. A range of industrial sectors will be able to re-start production – providing stringent health protection measures are in place – building sites can re-open, and the lottery will be back in action.
But while people will be permitted to travel beyond the comune from tomorrow, members of the same household will apparently still not be allowed to leave the house together (so it is unclear how this works with the newly permitted family visits), and there will still be very little to do if one or other of us does venture out. We will, for instance, have to wait a further week before shops other than supermarkets, pharmacies and those selling a strictly defined and limited range of ‘necessities’ can re-open – with a strict one-in-one-out policy in operation and all shop assistants required to wear masks and gloves. It will be another week or two before shopping centres, covered markets, museums and galleries can re-open – undoubtedly with a strict mask-and-gloves rule in place – and travel between regions will be permitted.
Finally, providing the data during this period do not give undue cause for concern – and the government can retain the goodwill of the people whose patience is finally beginning to fray – hairdressers and barbers, beauty salons, bars and restaurants should be able to re-open by the end of May – all with strict social distancing and infection prevention measures in place, though. And state schools will remain closed until September.
So tomorrow one of us – we have yet to decide who – will be travelling the six whole miles to shop at our usual supermarket in the neighbouring comune for the first time in two months. And with the unambiguous simplicity of total lockdown having become so unexpectedly normalised, we are both slightly taken aback by the apprehension we both feel at having a whole new set of do’s and mainly don’ts we will have to negotiate, and how huge such ‘pochi passi’ feel…