LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Tomorrow, Italy begins lifting the lockdown it imposed two months ago to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Despite some of the strictest measures in Europe, Italy's death toll continued to climb. Now it's more than 28,000, second only to the United States.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has been living through the lockdown in Rome, and she joins me now. Good morning.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell us what will be permitted now that hasn't been permitted for the past eight weeks.
POGGIOLI: Well, first of all, 4.5 million people will return to work. They're going to go into certain manufacturing companies, in wholesale and on construction sites. Restaurants stay closed, but they can start preparing takeaway meals. As of Monday, everyone can walk and jog beyond the 200 yards from their home. They were restricted before. But everyone still has to carry a self-certification document stating why you're out - either work, health, visiting relatives or some sort of emergency situation. Parks will reopen, but social distancing is going to be required, as are masks indoors, in public places and on mass transport, where the number of passengers is going to be limited.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So it's not a real return to normal. It's an easing of restrictions. People will still have to say why they're going out.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Sylvia, Italy was the first European country to lock down, but it still has this terrible death toll. Of course, it would likely have been worse without the restrictions, but is there an explanation yet for why it took so long to start to bring the virus under control?
POGGIOLI: You know, Italy had the misfortune of being the first Western country hit by the virus and at a time - and it was the end of February when the WHO was downplaying its effects. It hit Lombardy in the north, which has a very good health system, but doctors were unprepared for the new disease and didn't have protective equipment. There wasn't enough testing and isolation of asymptomatic or slightly ill patients from family members.
And then in addition, Lombardy is Italy's economic and industrial engine. Union officials and some local authorities say business groups strongly resisted production shutdowns. Even after the lockdown forced nonessential businesses to close, several companies stayed open, which means lots of people were still moving around and possibly infecting family members.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what is the mood there as Italians anticipate beginning to resume normal life?
POGGIOLI: Well, there's both, you know, eager anticipation and outright fear of the unknown. The southern regions, which were not very much affected by the epidemic, worry about southern residents coming down from the north, where they got caught in the lockdown. Some governors want them to be quarantined as possible carriers.
On a psychological level, there's really still lots of anxiety because the reopening is going to place a lot more responsibility on individuals. They're going to have to weigh personal decisions based on health risk, psychological well-being and economic needs. And there's the longer-term effects of lockdown on families. Sociologists wonder whether, at the end of this coronavirus tunnel - will there be more divorces or pregnancies?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good question. I know it's early yet, but just briefly, has the pandemic changed the way Italians view their own government and each other?
POGGIOLI: Well, actually, the government has had very good approval ratings. It improved its ratings throughout the lockdown. The bigger test is going to come when the economic impact hits home, and that is expected to be truly devastating. As for national behavior, I've noticed a reversal in stereotypes. Italians are the first to admit they're not the most law-abiding people, always finding ways to get around the rules. Well, in lockdown, they've stunned even themselves at how obedient they've been. Will that continue? We'll have to see.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome.
Thank you so much, Sylvia.
POGGIOLI: Thank you, Lulu.
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