Why many of Italy’s bookshops are staying shut despite rules being lifted

Why many of Italy's bookshops are staying shut despite rules being lifted
Photo: AFP
Italy allowed bookshops and some other stores to reopen on Tuesday, but there was no mad rush to open the doors – in fact, many small business owners chose to remain closed, fearing it was too soon to start relaxing the rules.

Launderettes, childrens' clothing shops, and stationery shops were also permitted to reopen on Tuesday as the government sought to gradually lift its strict lockdown measures, in place nationally since March 9th.

READ ALSO: Here are the businesses that can start reopening in Italy

These shops were demmed low risk by the Italian government, which said such businesses rarely attract crowds of shoppers and should be better able to enforce social distancing.

But not every shop owner wanted to reopen.

“Open in a desert? Why? A bookstore is a place where people interact – opening a business where no one walks by is dangerous from every point of view,” said Cristina Di Caio, a bookshop owner in Milan.

Italy is one of the world's worst-hit countries, with more than 20,000 deaths – the second most after the US.

A children's clothing shop owner in Rome on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

The pandemic and lockdown measures have crippled its economy and brought daily life to a standstill.

Most of the country's 60 million people have been confined to their homes and most shops other than pharmacies and supermarkets have been shut.

Though the central government said some shops could resume work, officials in hard-hit northern regions including Lombardy and Piedmont refused to resume business.

Shops there would stay shut until May 3rd, when the countrywide quarantine is set to expire, local authorities said.

Shops will also remain closed in some other parts of Italy, including the southern Campania region and parts of Emilia-Romagna.

READ ALSO: Why the coronavirus quarantine rules aren't always the same around Italy

Lombardy is at the epicentre of the outbreak, with nearly 11,000 deaths in this region alone.

Opening shops at this stage “is absurd”, said the president of Piedmont, Alberto Cirio.
 “I'm working on keeping people at home,” he said.

“Maintaining discipline is the only way not to waste the sacrifices made up until now.”

But some shops welcomed the easing of restrictions, particularly in southern Italy, which has seen fewer deaths and infections overall.

At a bookshop in the Sicilian city of Syracuse, the usual tourists were gone but some loyal clients stopped by for the opening, entering one at a time.

“It was still like a party,” said owner Marilia Di Giovanni. “It's the human dimension that's started back up again.”

The World Health Organization has warned countries against prematurely reopening businesses to avoid sparking a second wave of the contagion.

ANALYSIS: How and when will Italy's lockdown end?

But with millions of people having suddenly lost their incomes to the shutdown, the Italian government is conscious of the heavy financial toll the measures take.

The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday projected the worst global recession in a century and forecast a 9.1 percent drop in Italy's growth this year.

Bookshops were already in difficulty before the shutdown, hurt by competition from online retailers.

Some bookshop owners were angry that they were ordered to close but deliveries of books from online sellers were allowed to continue.


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