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Italy has started easing key restrictions after a two-month coronavirus shutdown. 4.4 million Italians can go back to work and some restrictions on movement have been lifted in the first European country to lock down during the pandemic. (May 4th)

AP domestic

ROME – Italy and the United States are a study in contrast when it comes to how they faced the pandemic.

Italy became the first country to be badly hit after the virus spread beyond China’s borders, and after some early missteps, the country took decisive action. Italy’s national lockdown was the first in Europe in peacetime, and it was more severe and lasted longer than any other country. The rules were strictly enforced by the police with the power to impose fines.

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Executives followed the same mask and social distancing guidelines as everyone else when Italian factories started making ventilators, masks and other protective equipment. Whenever a group of cases emerged, the area was quickly quarantined and the sick were cared for by a free public health system.

Most importantly, the Italians mostly followed the rules.

“In Italy we may have a reputation for being a nation of disorganized rule breakers, but the truth is that people tend to take the advice of their doctors,” said Giovanni Sebastiani, researcher and member of the Italian National Research Council. “Our lockdown was long, we only reopened in measured steps, and almost everyone did what they should.”

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Italy, a country of 60 million people, was the first country in the world to have 200,000 official coronavirus cases (on April 28) and the first country to have 30,000 deaths (May 7). By the end of May, the daily infection rate had dropped from more than 5,000 to the low three-digit levels – and remained there for the most part until last month.

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As in most of Europe, COVID-19 infections are rising again in Italy, and the country topped 10,000 new infections on Friday, exceeding its daily high for positive tests. The World Health Organization warned that the virus is rapidly spiraling out of control in Europe and that the region has reached a tipping point to contain a second wave of the coronavirus.

Daily infection rates have risen to over 14,000 in Spain, nearly 20,000 in the UK and nearly 30,000 in France – all well above their spring highs. According to the COVID Tracking Project, the US has had an average of 50,000 to 60,000 cases per day since early October. There have been around 8 million cases and more than 219,000 deaths in the United States.

This month, Chancellor Angela Merkel – Germany is the largest European country with the greatest success in containing the spread of the virus – warned her compatriots against vacationing in high-risk parts of Europe. She said it was no problem for her to travel to Italy, where the government “acted with great caution”.

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“Incredible to watch”

Italians shook their heads at news from the United States. The politicization of wearing masks, the unequal application and enforcement of coronavirus rules from state to state, disregard for health guidelines at beaches, parks and political rallies, and the way President Donald Trump handled his own case of COVID-19 by asking the severity of illnesses were difficult for many Italians to understand.

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“Italians have always looked up to the United States, but what is happening now makes us look in disbelief,” said Flavio Chiapponi, political scientist at the University of Pavia in northern Italy. “In the earliest days of the pandemic, we learned our lessons through trial and error, which is why it hit us so hard.

“We hoped other countries would learn from what we went through, but that has not happened in many countries, including the United States,” said Chiapponi.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte vowed the country would not be locked again.

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“We are much better prepared now than in March and April,” said Giorgio Palu, professor emeritus of microbiology at the University of Padua and past president of the European Virology Society. “Hospitals are prepared and tests are far more common. We understand what we are dealing with. “

This week the government put restrictions on home social events, restaurants, school activities, and even weddings. A decree was passed this month mandating the use of masks outside and far from others. The state of emergency of the coronavirus, which was set up on January 31, has been extended until its one-year anniversary, so that the authorities have the opportunity to quickly block neighborhoods or cities if necessary.

“We have to go on”

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USA TODAY

According to a survey published by Imperial College London this summer, the majority of Italians are okay with wearing masks. About 85% of Italians said they were “very” or “completely” willing to put on a mask when advised to do so. This is the highest rate among the European countries examined.

When the infection rate rose in September, coffee bars and town squares were full of news. Cautiously optimistic residents said they had not lost their trust in the government.

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USA TODAY

“I feel like the leadership of the country has sent a clear, unified and consistent message about the coronavirus, unlike the situation at home,” said Molly Gage, mother of two, originally from Pittsburgh but for the past 13 years lives in Rome. “In Italy, the pandemic is being treated like a public health problem, and it is. It’s difficult for everyone, but one thing that makes it a little easier is knowing that whatever can be done here is being done. “

A similar view was taken by Alessandra Bernero, an office worker who contracted COVID-19 for four weeks in March and April.

“When I wake up, the first thing I do is check my phone for the latest information on infections, deaths and hospitalizations,” she said. “I was more relaxed a few months ago than now, but I know that we are careful and that we take the problem seriously. We have to keep going until the virus goes away or there is a vaccine. “

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AP domestic

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