Italy has outlined plans to ease the strict restrictions imposed seven weeks ago to curb the spread of the coronavirus as it recorded its lowest daily death toll since mid-March.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said curbs would be eased from 4 May, with people being allowed to visit their relatives in small numbers, in masks.
Parks will reopen, but schools will not restart classes until September.
Italy has reported 26,644 virus-related deaths, Europe’s highest official toll.
The country recorded 260 new deaths on Sunday, the lowest daily figure since 14 March. It has confirmed 197,675 cases of the virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the disease globally.
The number of cases has been falling, and authorities now believe Italy’s contagion rate – the number of people each person with the virus infects – is low enough to justify a cautious easing of curbs.
What has been announced?
Speaking on television, Mr Conte outlined how the country would begin “Phase Two” of lifting its coronavirus lockdown. The measures include:
- People will be allowed to move around their own regions – but not between different regions
- Funerals are set to resume, but with a maximum of 15 people attending, and ideally to be carried out outdoors
- Individual athletes can resume training, and people can do sports not only in the vicinity of their homes but in wider areas
- Bars and restaurants will reopen for takeaway service from 4 May (not just delivery as now), but food must be consumed at home or in an office
- Hairdressers, beauty salons, bars and restaurants are expected to reopen for dine-in service from 1 June
- More retail shops not already opened under the earliest easing measures will reopen on 18 May – along with museums and libraries
- Sports teams will also be able to hold group training from 18 May
There was no announcement on the possibility of Italy’s premier football league Serie A resuming, even behind closed doors.
Mr Conte stressed that social distancing measures would need to continue for months to come, and said church services would remain banned. He urged people to stay a metre (3ft) away from each other.
“If we do not respect the precautions the curve will go up, the deaths will increase, and we will have irreversible damage to our economy,” the prime minister said. “If you love Italy, keep your distance.”
What is the background?
Italians have been living under a national stay-at-home order since 9 March, with everyone required to remain within a few streets of their door.
The country brought in very limited easing of its virus control measures on 14 April, permitting some small shops – including bookstores, dry cleaners and stationers – to reopen. The businesses chosen were deemed to be lower risk as they rarely attract crowds.
This is a roadmap to reopening and a taste of freedom for a country that has endured hell, but it could take years for it to recover, the BBC’s Mark Lowen in Rome reports.
If infections show an increase again, the government will have powers to intervene to reintroduce certain restrictions, our correspondent adds.