Italy moves to "Phase 2"
By Alberto Mingardi
Italy is moving towards “Phase Two”, which shall mean a state in which the lockdown is relatively eased. Here’s a piece that describes what is supposed to go on, after May 4th.
The context is one in which official data on the contagion are still messy and opaque. Ferdinando Giugliano, on Bloomberg, rightly remarked that the government is “leaving people in the dark”. Astonishingly, “phase two” has been announced with literally no reference to increased test capability, nor to random COVID 19 testing to develop a better understanding of the breadth of the contagion. When it comes to the details of measures to reopen the economy, the government has been surprisingly parsimonious. We will be able to go running again, but freedom of movement between Italian regions will be severely limited? People won’t be able to go to Mass, though vigorous protests by the Italian bishops may push the government to change that restriction. This is an interesting feature of the modus operandi of our government in the emergency.
For the last two months, things have gone like this: the government announces a measure before the relevant executive order is written; then a draft is circulated, mainly by Whatsapp, and ends up in the hands of journalists, pundits, and fellow politicians; then the draft is scrutinized and criticized; then the government issues the order, taking into account some of the criticizing but after having messed people’s expectations up. Because of the mismatch between announcement and corrections, this is not a good way to “peer review” an executive order, but it is excellent insofar as creating confusion is concerned. All of the above goes on in a clime of constant confrontation between regional and national governments, engaged in a sort of game to shift political responsibility and blame to one another.
From a health standpoint, Italy will reopen when we have around 2,000 newly infected people a day (though the data are still messy and imprecise): we closed at around 1,700 new infected people a day. Are we doing that because we grew sufficiently the number of ICUs in Italian hospitals? In Lombardy, the region most severely hit by the virus, the capacity doubled: I honestly do not know what happened in the regions in the South. Since, however, the state of the contagion is quite different in different regions, one does not really understand the reason for a one-size-fits-all approach.
The most characteristic feature of the Italian “model” is the decision not to reopen schools, regardless of the obvious problems that the closure causes to working parents. This is in striking contrast with what the Netherlands and France are planning to do. Sweden kept schools for under-16 open.
The government will require people to wear facemasks at work. This sounds sensible, but it also decided to fix the price of face masks. A special commissioner for public procurement in the emergency has so announced, together with the government buying machinery to start domestic production. The administered price is going to be 0.50 euros. The administered price is a strong blow for companies that in Italy turned into producing this kind of PPE and to those that choose to devote themselves to attempt to import them. Pharmacists protested and apparently obtained a subsidy for selling facemasks at the administered price. I shall quote Herbert Spencer again: “failure does not destroy faith in the agencies employed, but merely suggests more stringent use of such agencies or wider ramifications of them”.