Italy was due to announce a relaxation of regional coronavirus restrictions on Friday, despite public health experts warning the move could be premature.
Veneto, the region around Venice, should be downgraded from an “orange” to a “yellow” zone, which would allow bars and restaurants to reopen during the day and greater freedom of movement.
A similar change was planned for Calabria in the south and Emilia-Romagna in the north, according to La Repubblica Daily.
The move would come as other countries in Europe start thinking about hardening restrictions.
The European branch of the World Health Organization warned on Thursday that it was “too early to relax” due to a “still very high” presence of the virus.
“Yes, Italy is bucking the trend,” said Walter Ricciardi, a public health expert who advises Italy’s health minister on the pandemic.
He shared the AFP lockdown measures adopted in Italy over Christmas and New Years to stabilize virus numbers without lowering them.
Still, “it is extremely difficult at the moment to propose stricter measures, as both politics and public opinion are resisting,” said Ricciardi.
France is currently planning a third lockdown. President Emmanuel Macron is expected to announce new measures over the weekend or Monday.
– ‘This is war’ –
Italy was one of the first countries to be affected by the coronavirus, with devastating consequences. More than 87,000 people have died and the economy has fallen into record recession.
Even if this is politically uncomfortable, Ricciardi said the country would benefit from a “brief tightening” of the virus rules as well as more centralized decision-making regarding the pandemic.
According to GIMBE, an independent think tank, Italy had 799 virus cases per 100,000 people in the period January 20-26.
Until that number drops below 50 cases, it would be impossible to ensure effective virus testing and traceability procedures, Ricciardi warned.
He also suggested that Italy’s largely decentralized response to the pandemic – with regions responsible for vaccinations with mixed results – needs to be addressed.
“We need a clearer chain of command … a critical shift in management with a government that is fully accountable and ready to centralize decisions in its hands,” said Ricciardi.
Politicians are currently preoccupied with the government crisis triggered by the resignation of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte this week. His cabinet remains responsible, but only as a caretaker.
“This is a war … and if we were to compare it to World War II, we would not be 1945 but 1941,” said Ricciardi, warning that victory was still a long way off and that the political crisis needed to be resolved quickly.
“If we do not have a government with full powers … it is clear that the situation in Italy could become even more critical,” he added.