Italy reopens after pre-Christmas closure

Italians gingerly return to work after virus risk categories are amended

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Much of Italy reopened Monday from pre-Christmas coronavirus closures.

While many European neighbours remain in lockdown battling surging Covid-19 infections and variants, five more Italian regions graduated to the “yellow” category of risk starting on Monday.

This allowed museums and the Colosseum to reopen, restaurant and bar service to resume during the day and many high school children able to return to class part-time.

“Finally we can breathe again after this long period of staying at home,” waiter Elsafty Rashad said as he set up tables outside La Nonna Betta restaurant in Rome’s Ghetto neighbourhood.

“Without work, staying at home every day is too difficult for us young people who work, who have to pay rent and everything else.”

Italy is by no means out of the woods:

The country is averaging about 12,000 to 15,000 new confirmed cases and between 300 and 600 Covid-19 deaths each day.

But it appears to have avoided the severe post-Christmas surges in Britain and elsewhere through tightened restrictions that closed ski slopes and stopped residents travelling outside their regions for big family get-togethers.

Many travel restrictions remain in place, along with the mandatory wearing of mask indoors and outdoors, a 10pm curfew, limits on public transport and other social-distancing rules aimed at protecting the health system.

Tuscany was declared “yellow” last week and on Monday its famed Uffizi Gallery reported that about 7,300 visitors had passed through its doors.

Museum director Eike Schmidt said he hoped the government would let the museum reopen on weekends, even though for now  visitors are almost exclusively locals because inter-regional travel is still restricted.

In Rome, Monday’s “yellow” designation meant that the Vatican Museums welcomed visitors for the first time in 88 days, their longest closure ever.

Museum director Barbara Jatta said staff took advantage of the weeks-long closure to rearrange some exhibit halls and do maintenance work.

Such work would be difficult with the nearly seven million visitors who normally flock to see Michelangelo's Last Judgment  and Raphael masterpieces each year.

“I think it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see it so empty,” said Julia Lammer, a visitor from Austria.

Ms Lammer said she had been in Rome for several weeks before being able to buy a ticket online to see the Sistine Chapel on the day it reopened.

Italy, the first country in the West to be hit by Covid-19, closed its museums in early November during the peak of its autumn resurgence.

It divided the country into three tier zones of risk, with regions assigned red for the most severe restrictions, to yellow for the least strict, based on infection rates and the healthcare system’s ability to respond.

Hardest-hit Lombardy was declared a “red zone” as it again registered high numbers of infections and deaths.

But even it graduated to “orange” on Monday, allowing shops to reopen and takeaway service at restaurants and bars.

Not all stores took advantage, though, with many still closed on a typically slow Monday morning.

In Rome, where reopenings coincided with a hint of a spring day, residents were out taking full advantage.

“We couldn’t wait,” said Giulia Marcelli as she soaked in the morning sun.

“Look, the very first morning I am here with my papa getting a cappuccino, sitting at a table, outside.”

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