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A deserted St. Peter's Square may come to life again on Monday when the basilica's doors open to the public again


Fashion, al fresco dining as cautious Italy reopens

Visitors had their temperatures taken before entering the church © AFP / Vincenzo PINTO

Rome, Italy, May 17 – Spaghetti carbonara, Gucci bags and trendy haircuts were back on the menu in Italy Monday, but only the bravest ate, shopped or styled-away their lockdown blues as the country attempted to return to normality.

Restaurants laid on brand-new tablecloths and smart plexiglass dividers to entice clients, but many stood forlornly empty as lunchtime neared, then passed.

At Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, which reopened its giant doors again, police officers sternly admonished those who allowed their face masks to slip in prayer.

Italy was the first country to go into a full lockdown over two months ago, bringing the economy to its knees.

Visitors observed social distancing rules as they waited in line to enter © AFP / Vincenzo PINTO

The official death toll from the virus now stands at just over 32,000.

But its daily toll dropped under 100 Monday for the first time since Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced he was shutting down the country in March.

The government started lifting restrictions on May 4.

A limited number of gondolas returned to Venice’s Grand Canal on Monday, though they were only boating the odd local around, in the absence of tourists.

– ‘Not afraid’ –

With restaurants, bars, cafes, hairdressers, and stores finally allowed to reopen, some people could not wait to rush out and get their grey roots done or purchase new underwear.

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“I’ve tried to do some hair care at home over the past weeks but it’s been a disaster,” said Marie-Antonietta, 56, the first customer in the chair at a hairdressers in Rome’s Testaccio neighbourhood.

“I’m not afraid, I can’t afford to be afraid,” said Gianluca Politano, 30, as he wielded the scissors.

Car traffic around Rome’s Colosseum and other main roads was almost back to its chaotic norm after the two-month lockdown © AFP/File / Alberto PIZZOLI

“We’re booked solid for the next two weeks, though we can only have one client at a time. It’s better than nothing though”.

Not all jumped at the opportunity to receive customers again.

“Either they’re not ready to go or they don’t have the economic strength to do so,” said Mauro, a construction worker sipping a coffee at the only cafe open at Rome’s Piazza Navona.

– ‘A bit emotional’ –

The question on many restaurant owners’ minds was whether customers were psychologically ready to dine out.

At a restaurant near the Pantheon, waiters bustled between some dozen tables, greeting regulars, and delivering plates of artichokes, sauteed chicory and spaghetti.

“I’m a little bit emotional,” one woman confessed as she bumped elbows in greeting with a waiter.

The Goga cafe in Milan seated some 50 diners, with owner Dario Goga saying the business would “survive”.

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But at the Scopettaro trattoria along the Tiber river in the capital, no-one had turned up at all.

“We’re opening for a trial run, we’ll give it 15 to 20 days, then if people still don’t come we’ll have to close our doors for good,” said owner Alessandro Trombini, 48.

– Bags and bikinis –

More than 800,000 businesses which have been under lockdown since Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte imposed restrictions on March 9 were allowed to reopen on Monday, said Confcommercio, Italy’s largest business association.

Signs in the windows of some still-closed shops read: “Without government aid, we CANNOT reopen”.

Restaurants, bars, cafes, hairdressers, and stores are finally allowed to reopen © AFP / Miguel MEDINA

The high-end luxury fashion shops were seeing a lot more foot traffic than normal shops, an AFP photographer said, with five customers in Gucci at once lusting over bags, belts and baubles on the famed Via dei Condotti.

Families, friends and colleagues can now see who they want, at home or outside. Large public gatherings, however, are still forbidden.

On May 25, gyms, swimming pools and sports centres will reopen. On June 3, people from Europe’s Schengen passport-free zone will be able to travel to Italy, hopefully relaunching the vital tourism industry.

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