“Andrà tutto bene” – “All shall be well”. It was the national rallying cry that helped see the country through the earliest, darkest days of lockdown back in spring; those days when it was the unknown that everyone feared as much as the invisible viral enemy and its relentless march from one region to the next. It stiffened people’s resolve and lifted their spirits; it helped people pull together and reminded us all that this too shall pass. Invariably decorated with cheery rainbows, it was Scotch-taped to windows, pinned on doors and sprayed onto bedsheets that hung from balconies. Eight months on and the posters and bedsheets are still there, a little sagging and frayed and rather faded now, but still holding fast – just. And it is much the same with the Italian population as we enter Lockdown Version 2.
It came as no real surprise this week that following the continued almost exponential rise in new Covid infections, the regime of measures which was announced in late October that sought to balance economic, public health and social needs would swiftly be superseded by something much more robust. But Prime Minister Conte and his cabinet still shied away from imposing another total national lockdown like that in spring which confined everyone from the Alps to Etna in their home municipalities for almost three months. For this time round, with the people’s goodwill, resolve and savings long since exhausted, the mood of national solidarity and consensus is much more fragile. Added to which, the government has also been faced with twenty regional leaders who during the first lockdown were largely excluded from the decision-making process and left powerless to respond with local measures to local conditions and local needs. So this time it adopted a more consultative and collaborative approach, and after several days’ painstaking negotiations, the result is a much more nuanced response.
In addition to the measures announced the previous week that included the closure of all entertainment and leisure venues, the banning of amateur sports activities other than individual exercise, the closure of all restaurants, bars, cafés, patisseries and ice-cream parlours after 6.00pm, and a recommendation that at least seventy-five percent of secondary and tertiary teaching move back online, a month-long nationwide curfew from 10pm to 5am has also been put in place (other than for proven work, study or health reasons). Then a list of twenty-one criteria has been used to allocate each region to one of three zones: red, orange and yellow (green was abandoned at the last minute for fear of sending the wrong message). As well as the daily number of new infections, these criteria include the R-value, the percentage of intensive care beds occupied, the daily testing rate plus the percentage of positives, the time between symptoms and diagnosis, and the size and number of local ‘hot-spots’.
For the eleven regions in the yellow zone – of which Le Marche is one – the only further restrictions are online learning for one hundred percent of secondary and tertiary students, and the closure of all amusement arcades and betting facilities. For those in the orange zone (Puglia and Sicily) there is also a ban on movement (other than for proven work, study or health reasons) within and between regions and the complete closure of all bars and restaurants. Then for those in the red zone (Lombardy, Piemonte and Val d’Aosta in the far north and Calabria in the far south), there is a ban on movement (other than for proven work, study or health reasons) beyond one’s home municipality, all shops selling non-essential goods are closed, and another tier of schools has had to go online. While these restrictions are undoubtedly severe, especially in the red zone, they are still not as severe as in the first lockdown, however, principally because in all three zones, factories and businesses can remain open, albeit with as much smart working from home as possible.
Then as for devolved powers, regional governments have been granted decision-making powers relating to their specific economic circumstances. Thus, inland regions can, for instance, issue rules relating to hunting licences, coastal regions can issue rules relating to fishing, and alpine regions can, presumably, issued rules relating to ski resorts. More importantly, however, regional governments have been given a voice in the corridors of power in Rome and so can more easily make their case for additional resources from central government to mitigate some of the economic impact of these new measures, and to help ensure that the civil unrest that is already a problem in some large cities can be avoided – and that the fragile yet vital national consensus can be preserved. Time will tell whether Conte has got it right…