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Italy begins to grapple with lifting COVID-19 restrictions amid warmer weather

With warmer weather beckoning, Italians are straining against a strict lockdown to halt the coronavirus that is just now showing signs of ebbing at the end of five weeks of mass isolation.

Italy was the first Western democracy to be hit by the virus, and it has suffered the most deaths of any nation: nearly 19,000. Now it is likely to set an example of how to lift broad restrictions that have imposed the harshest peacetime limits on personal freedom and shut down all nonessential industry.

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Right now, schools are closed and children are not permitted to play in parks. Walks outdoors are limited to a distance of 200 meters (yards) and any excursion not strictly a matter of necessity risks hefty fines.

The official line is patience with measures that have shown success in slowing the virus spread, until there is a clear decline in the number of new cases. Still, officials have begun grappling with the question of how to manage social distancing on mass transit, re-open ordinary commerce and relaunch manufacturing without risking another peak.

The so-called Phase II is being described as a cautious reopening, as society continues to live alongside the virus until a vaccine can be developed, perhaps in 12 to 18 months.

’’We obviously don’t want to delude ourselves that everything will change,” Premier Giuseppe Conte told Italians this week.

On Friday, Conte extended the nationwide lockdown through May 3. That includes all nonessential industry, after which, ’’I hope we can start again with caution and gradually — but restart,″ he said.

A technical committee advising the government is working to expand testing for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. to get a better picture of how widespread it is in Italy before measures can be eased. Preparations are also underway to launch a mobile app that will allow people to know if they have been near anyone who is positive, something that is expected to take at least a month.

’’With this you can allow people to have more freedom of movement,” said Walter Ricciardi, a public health expert and member of the World Health Organization board advising the Italian government.

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The technology for the app already exists but authorities were working on technical details on how to deploy it.

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