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Hard-hit Italy cautiously embraces new normal in coronavirus era

Tom Kington, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

ROME -- With tourists still absent and office workers continuing to toil from home more than two months after Italy's strict coronavirus lockdown ended, few were out and about on Rome's central Via del Corso last week.

But in the Farmacrimi drug store, one product was being briskly traded.

"Masks keep on selling," said manager Federica Faragali. "People buy them like cappuccinos."

Among the places where face coverings are widely on display is the Circus Maximus, where socially distanced spectators -- including women in gowns with matching masks -- are back watching open-air performances of Verdi's opera "Rigoletto."

Five months after Italy was wracked by the West's first major outbreak of the coronavirus, the nation continues to move cautiously toward a semblance of normality and has thus far not seen a major secondary flare-up of COVID-19 deaths.

New daily cases inched up on Friday to 552, but that was less than 1/10 of the 6,500 daily cases reported at the peak March 21 and 1/100 of the new cases in the U.S., where more than 50,000 are being reported each day.

 

New, minor clusters are being tackled across Italy, but no new shutdowns have been announced and the entire nation had a mere 42 patients in intensive care the other day. This in a country long stereotyped as anarchic and rule-breaking.

"When it came to lockdown and masks, we've been a lot less rebellious than you might think," said Faragali.

The largely conscientious approach toward wearing masks and carefully sticking to rules on distancing and hygiene came as Italians took to heart the grim death toll that resulted when the coronavirus hit hard in late February. The nation, and world, watched in horror as army trucks were called in to remove coffins when cemeteries overflowed in Bergamo, the northern town at the epicenter of the outbreak, where hospitals were forced to make snap decisions on which patients got ventilators.

Antibody testing this month showed that 24% of Bergamo residents had come in contact with the virus, evidence of the swath it cut through the community.

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