By Gonzalo Sanchez
Rome, Apr 18 (efe-epa).- Tensions between Italy’s prosperous north and poorer south, never far from the surface, came to the fore Saturday as the central government sought consensus on loosening the restrictions enacted last month to contain the Covid-19 coronavirus.
And though the daily growth in fatalities and infections continues to diminish. Italy still has Europe’s highest pandemic death toll, 23,227, and is second internationally only to the United States, where the virus has claimed nearly 38,000 lives.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte held a videoconference Saturday with the presidents of Italy’s regions to discuss what the government is calling Phase 2 of the coronavirus response: the gradual re-opening of the economy starting May 4.
The loudest voice arguing in favor of lifting the lockdown belongs to Luca Zaia, governor of the northeastern region of Veneto.
“My position is that we can open on May 4 with rules and scientific guarantees. And if we wanted to go a step farther, we could ease up immediately, in a rational and prudent manner,” he told a press conference.
As the rate of contagion declines, Zaia said, Italy can “turn on the machine, warm up the engines and then pick up speed.”
But the national government’s special commissioner for the Covid-19 crisis urged caution.
“We must understand that it is completely mistaken to enter into a conflict between health and economic recovery. Without health, the recovery would be short-lived,” Domenico Arcuri said.
Some leaders in the south were less measured in their response to Zaia’s proposal to begin rolling back restrictions on movement and activity.
Vincenzo De Luca, who heads the regional government of Campania, said from Naples that he is prepared to stop people from the north – which accounts for the lion’s share of Italy’s Covid-19 cases and deaths – from entering his jurisdiction.
“If the regions where the contagion is so strong speed up (ending the lockdown), Campania will close its borders,” he said from Naples, noting that the region he governs includes areas with the highest population density on the European continent.
De Luca’s counterpart in Calabria, Jole Santelli, vowed not to let the people of his region become victims “of haste.”
“We are closed since March 7, even before what the government ordered, because we have tried to prevent exoduses” from the hardest-hit regions, Santelli said in an interview with La Repubblica newspaper.
Officials in southern Italy fear that northerners who take advantage of the reopening of the country to travel could cause infections to spike in the south, overwhelming a fragile health-care system.
Italy has 107,771 active coronavirus cases. Of the 25,007 people hospitalized with Covid-19, 2,733 are in intensive care.
Nearly 43,000 Italians have recovered from coronavirus. EFE