News Analysis: Italy forms task force to prepare for economy re-opening

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, April 16, 2020
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ROME, April 16 (Xinhua) -- The expert task force appointed to help shepherd Italy through the gradual re-opening of the country's economy has to maintain a delicate balance between economic and health concerns, analysts said.

More than five weeks into Italy's national coronavirus quarantine, the outbreak is showing signs of coming under control. The number of COVID-19 patients in Italian hospitals is slowly falling, and the rate of new infections has slowed.

On Tuesday, Italy took a small step toward re-opening certain economic sectors, including book and stationery stores, businesses selling baby products, and electronics repair shops. Grocery stores and pharmacies have remained open since the start of the national lockdown. The new rules will remain in place until at least May 3.

The next step, according to Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, has been dubbed "phase 2": gradually widening the reopening process while re-organizing public spaces to allow for widespread safeguards, such as social distancing and the use of masks and gloves in public.

To decide when and how "phase 2" will begin, Conte appointed a special task force of economists, labor leaders, managers, and psychologists led by Vittorio Colao, a former chief executive for mobile phone giant Vodafone, to advise him on the topic. The task force will work together with the pre-existing Technical and Scientific Committee.

"The appointment of Colao is a sign that the government is taking the task force very seriously," Tommaso Monacelli, an economist with Bocconi University of Milan, told Xinhua. "Colao is a person of great abilities with a proven ability to find unusual solutions to problems. I don't think he would have taken the job if there was not going to be a substantive role to play."

Monacelli pointed out that it was still not clear what the full mandate of the task force will be or what powers it will have.

Giuseppe Arleo, coordinator of the department from the think tank Competere which monitors the restart of the European economy after the retreat of the pandemic, said the way this intermediate stage is carried out will decide how soon Italy can return to normal life.

"This next stage has to be done correctly," Arleo said in an interview. "The challenge is to balance the health needs of residents by making sure they are as safe as possible, while also taking into account the economic needs of the country."

Arleo said it was clear the Italian economy would not be able to wait for a coronavirus vaccine to re-open, raising the stakes for how "phase 2" is carried out.

"If things are re-opened too quickly, the virus could come rushing back," he said. "The plan has to involve simplifying bureaucracy and making sure the equipment needed, like masks and gloves, are available. But it has to get done as quickly as possible. We cannot stay in the first stage indefinitely."

"Prime Minister Conte is in an extraordinarily difficult position, and he has made an important decision about who will help him get through it," Arleo noted. Enditem

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