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Italy emerged from lockdown last week – and people are already flouting social distancing

A week after Italy relaxed some of the toughest lockdown restrictions in the world, people across the country are already flouting social distancing measures. After a two-month lockdown, residents have returned to the streets and cyclists are back on the streets, expressing relief and trepidation at what many called “liberation.”

“I literally haven’t been out of the house. The biggest shock for me was the fresh air,” Rina Sondhi, a resident of Orvieto, a hilltop city outside Rome, told the Guardian. The city and the surrounding Umbria region have recorded a total of 1,412 coronavirus cases, which is still far lower than the northern region of Lombardy, which has 81,871 cases as of Monday.

“Today I feel liberated, but with caution – that’s the important thing, we can have the freedom but we must be really careful,” she added.

The Italian government says that around 4 million people returned to work under the second phase of the country’s post-coronavirus measures. Meanwhile, in a Facebook post on the eve of the new measures, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte appealed to the public to act responsibly.

In Rome, residents flocked popular tourist spots such as the Via dei Fori Imperiali and the Piazza Venezia. Meanwhile, university students congregated on rooftops in the city’s university district, with most of them sitting or standing less than 6 feet apart.

According to local authorities, the second phase allows people to leave their homes; however, they can only visit relatives and other loved ones – and not friends. Everyone is required to wear masks and large family gatherings are still prohibited. Travel to other regions is still restricted, save for people who were marooned at the beginning of the lockdown.

Most non-essential shops are still shuttered, except bookstores and clothes stores that were allowed to open during the lockdown. Bar and restaurants have also opened for takeout services.

Residents are also allowed to go to parks to jog and exercise; however, children’s playgrounds are still closed. In addition, universities are allowed to reopen, provided strict social distancing measures are followed. Funerals are also allowed, but only for up to 15 mourners, with all wearing face masks.

“This isn’t a game”

In Milan, residents of the country’s financial hub also poured into tourist spots and hangouts after restrictions were lifted last week. In particular, people crowded Navigli, the city’s popular canal district, after restaurants and bars around the area reopened.

This prompted Mayor Giuseppe Sala to issue a stern warning to residents, threatening that he would shut down the area if social distancing rules were not followed. (Related: Europe would have had MILLIONS of coronavirus cases if it did not close borders, finds study.)

“[You] can explain to the people who work in bars, why the mayor isn’t allowing them to do business,” he added. “This isn’t a game, we can’t allow this in a city of 1.4 million inhabitants.”

Lombardy, where Milan is located, is considered to be the epicenter of Italy’s outbreak, and one of the hardest-hit regions in Europe in terms of deaths and infections. The total caseload in the region is 81,871 as of Monday, with Milan being home to a quarter of these cases.

For public health experts, the current situation in Milan makes it a “bit of a bomb,” as many residents are now moving around, with some even disregarding social distancing rules, just a week after emerging from a draconian lockdown.

“We have a very high number of infected people returning to circulation,” explained Dr. Massimo Galli, head of the infectious disease department at the University of Milan’s Luigi Sacco Hospital, in an interview with La Repubblica. During the height of the coronavirus pandemic in Milan, the hospital – among the largest in Italy – was completely inundated with patients, with Galli’s department receiving new patients “every five minutes.”

According to Walter Ricciardi, the scientific adviser to Italy’s minister of health, the option of placing the country under a cordon sanitaire is still an option, if authorities record an upswing in new cases.

“We’re still in a risky phase,” he told La Repubblica. “It will take two weeks to see how it’s going.” has more stories about the ongoing coronavirus outbreak in Italy.

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