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LIFE IN ITALY

Why the partial end of lockdown in Italy isn’t as good as you’d imagine

Life in Italy under phase two turns out to be much as it was before lockdown - but with added stress, and few positives for the moment, writes Clare Speak from Bari in southern Italy.

Why the partial end of lockdown in Italy isn't as good as you'd imagine
A restaurant owner prepares takeaway orders on Monday. Photo: AFP

We're two days into “phase two” of lockdown here in Italy, and it's not quite as I thought it would be.

Under phase two, certain types of shops and businesses can gradually reopen. With a record recession on the horizon, there's no doubt that people need to start getting back to work. And there's concern about the psychological impact of keeping people indoors for almost two months, under Europe's longest lockdown.

Everyone's experience is different, but I haven't struggled as much as I expected to with spending the past eight weeks inside. I noted the positives (less pollution, peace and quiet) and I felt incredibly lucky. I may not have a garden, but I have a decent-sized apartment, a sunny balcony, and enough money for food. I can work from home, and I'm safe and well. 

But while I got through phase one without too much fuss, going back outside was unexpectedly anxiety-inducing and unpleasant. Phase two turns out to be more worrying, and harder to get used to, than the initial strict lockdown

PHASE TWO EXPLAINED: What's changed in Italy from May 4th?

Like everyone else, I was looking forward to the start of phase two and the small freedoms it promised. When the changes were finally announced last Sunday, they were underwhelming and confusing, but they still seemed positive. A first step on the road back.

The traffic fumes were the first thing that hit me when I opened the windows on Monday morning. Central Bari was already well on its way back to normality in that respect. Shutting the window and peering out of it, I watched a small queue forming at the condom machine across the road.

Two speeding motorini had a near miss on the corner by the bins, swerving and beeping. Everyone seemed to be busy resuming their pre-lockdown lives.

Q&A: Italy's new rules on going outside in lockdown phase two

 

The news was full of stories about people around Italy getting up at the crack of dawn to visit relatives, or simply to run in the park for the first time in over eight weeks. These stories, meant to be heartwarmng, left me feeling alienated – our tiny city parks are still shut in Bari, and my family are abroad.

Still, we've got the seafront, the ban on exercise has been lifted, and coffee bars have been allowed to reopen. They're serving takeaway coffees only, but after two months of nothing but the moka pot, that alone was a reason to go outside.

I regretted going out almost instantly, as a panting jogger slammed into me on a corner. It's hard to avoid people at all on the narrow pavements, never mind stay two metres apart.

Italian coffee bars can now serve takeaway coffee and pastries. Photo: AFP

He mumbled an apology and carried on, and I spent the rest of my 15-minute walk trying to dodge people and traffic, crossing busy roads to avoid small groups chatting in tight circles. I passed two coffee shops with crowds outside, filling the pavement and spilling into the road. How much did I really want that cappuccino? Not as much as I'd thought.

Our famously strict local mayor has spent weeks telling people to keep off the lungomare, the walkway by the sea. On Monday, people wasted no time in getting back out there. I stood across the road, dismayed and anxious, watching crowds jogging and strolling up and down, some in masks and gloves. And then I turned around and went home.

Tuesday morning's attempt at going out earlier was no better. I woke up to the sound of drilling as the construction site across the road got back to work.

A short walk revealed that the nearby coffee shops were eiher closed or too busy. As I reached my apartment and went to pull my keys out of my bag, a man's arm suddenly barred my way. “No entrance,” he shouted. “Money, now.”

I was more alarmed by his spit on my face than anything else. Taking a few steps back, I told him the police were on the corner, and he turned and ran. I ran, too, upstairs to my apartment, kicking off my shoes outside the door as if they were covered in toxic waste, and scrubbing my hands and face until it hurt.

Maybe I've just been unlucky.

Friends in Rome and Milan report long walks in beautiful parks, still-empty streets, and visits to quiet coffee shops. But here in Bari, all the downsides of city life – crowds, pollution, traffic, noise – have immediately sprung back to almost pre-lockdown levels. It's life pretty much as it was, but now with added stress.

Here in southern Italy there's also the looming threat of social unrest, with poverty levels skyrocketing. Protestors gathered today outside Bari's city hall, demanding money for families and businesses left with nothing due to the shutdown. The atmosphere is heavy, people are tense, and we don't know what the city will be like after this.

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With fewer police checks and thousands of people now estimated to be returning home to the south from areas with higher rates of infection, the risks are clear.

As I write, the sound of motorbike engines and drilling outside has just been drowned out, not for the first time, by the wailing of an ambulance siren close by.

I don't know about everyone else, but I'll be staying at home for a while yet.

 

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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