Italy to reopen factories in gradual end to virus closures

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By Stephen Jewkes and Angelo Amante

MILAN, Apr 26 (Reuters) – Italy will allow factories and construction sites to reopen starting May 4 and allow limited family visits as it prepares a gradual end to Europe’s biggest coronavirus shutdown, the first said on Sunday. Minister Giuseppe Conte.

More than two months after the first case of COVID-19 appeared in a small town on the outskirts of Milan and after weeks of closure, Italy is preparing for a second phase of the crisis, in which it will try to revive the economy without trigger a new wave of infections.

“We anticipate a very complex challenge,” Conte said as he outlined the roadmap to restart the halted activities from early March. “We will live with the virus and we will have to take all possible precautions.”

Manufacturers, construction companies and some wholesalers will be able to reopen starting May 4, followed by retailers two weeks later. Restaurants and bars will be able to reopen completely from the beginning of June, although the takeaway businesses will be able to before.

“The reopening is allowed on the condition that all companies involved strictly adhere to workplace safety protocols,” Conte warned, adding that such a restart would lay the foundation for deeper economic reforms in the coming months.

Additionally, parks will be reopened and limited family visits and funerals with no more than 15 people will be allowed. But the movement between regions is still suspended and people who move will have to carry a statement explaining the reasons for their travel.

Museums and libraries can reopen from May 18, when sports teams will also be able to resume group training, although Conte said conditions would have to be evaluated before any decision on the resumption of the Serie A soccer championship.

However, schools will remain closed until the start of the new academic year in September, which will leave families with child care issues in the coming months.

The closings have put pressure on the third largest economy in the euro zone, which is heading for its worst recession since World War II. Italian business leaders have called for the restrictions to be eased to avoid the economic catastrophe.

Conte said the more limited restrictions are likely to remain in place until the discovery of an effective vaccine or cure for COVID-19, which is not expected in many months.

On Sunday, Italian authorities reported a third consecutive daily drop in deaths from coronavirus, with 260 deaths, the lowest number since March 14.

The death toll in Italy remains the highest in Europe, with more than 26,000 deaths and almost 200,000 confirmed cases of respiratory disease. But the number of new cases has slowed down and the number of patients in intensive care has declined steadily.

Struck by the virus weeks before other major Western countries, Italy has been forced to serve as a model to combat it. It is being watched closely around the world as it takes its first steps to chart a path out of a tight blockade it imposed in early March. (Written by James Mackenzie. Edited in Spanish by Janisse Huambachano)

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