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Lombardy region’s governor pushes for Italian businesses to reopen

Lombardy, at the centre of Italy's coronavirus outbreak, has the strictest quarantine rules in the country. But now the head of the wealthy northern region is campaigning for the whole of Italy to reopen for business.

Lombardy region's governor pushes for Italian businesses to reopen
The deserted Via Santo Spirito, part of Milan's luxury shopping district, on April 9, Photo: AFP

Attilo Fontana, the governor of  Lombardy and a prominent member of the right-wing populist League party, sparked controversy on Thursday when he outlined his region's “road to freedom” in a Facbeook post.

The wealthy Lombardy region accounts for over a fifth of Italy's economic activity and Milan is home to the Italian headquarters of numerous global firms.

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

But this one region, at the epicentre of the outbreak in Italy, has also seen almost 60 percent of Italy's COVID-19 deaths, or over 11,000 of the total, which rose above 21,500 on Wednesday.

Italy's official toll – which is believed to be substantially underreported – was the world's highest until being overtaken by the United States last weekend.

Lombardy was the first region to cordon off “red zones” as the infection spread, and the first to implement a regional lockdown in early March.

It currently has stricter quarantine rules in place than any other Italian region – with fines of up to 5,000 euros for transgressions (the maximum fine in most of Italy is 3,000 euros).

After Lombardy and other parts of northern Italy went into lockdown, Italy rolled out strict national quarantine measures on March 10.

The restrictions seem to be working so far to contain the outbreak, but have had a severe impact on the country's already struggling economy.

The International Monetary Fund expects Italy's total output to shrink by 9.1 percent this year – the worst peacetime decline in nearly a century.

Millions of Italians are either furloughed or suddenly unemployed, and a growing number of people in Italy haven't got enough money for food and basic necessities.

READ ALSO: Fears in Italy shift to growing number who can't afford to eat under lockdown

In his Facebook post, Fontana insisted all businesses should reopen when the current nationwide lockdown expires on May 4, following basic social distancing rules.

”Many other European countries are already beginning to reopen. We need to start thinking about our own future immediately,” he said.

Some European nations, such as Denmark, Finland, andLithuania, are now cautiously eyeing ends to their own shutdowns.

Attilo Fontana, the regional governor of  Lombardy. Photo: AFP

However most bigger European countries, including neighbouring France where the situation is more similar to that in Italy, are extending their closures for at least a few more weeks.

Italian government officials still follow the advice of doctors who think it is best to keep the nation locked down until new infections sharply drop off.

READ ALSO: When will Italy's lockdown 'phase two' begin and what will it involve?

Italy's Deputy Industry Minister Stefano Buffagni called Fontana's message “an error”.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who continues to urge caution, has been widely applauded for his handing of what is widely viewed as Italy's worst crisis since World War II.

His government last week chose to extend the lockdown until at least May 3rd on the advice of its panel of scientific experts, despite pressure from those who want to restart economic activity this month.

It also allowed a short list of businesses to start reopening across the country from Tuesday April 14th.

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

However, the Lombardy regional administration, led by Fontana, immediately stated that it would not be allowing these businesses to reopen yet.

Lombardy would remain in full lockdown and economic hibernation until May 3rd with no gradual reopening before that date, the region's Welfare Minister Giulio Gallera announced on Saturday.

Fontana came under heavy criticism following his Facbeook post on Thursday, with many saying he seemed to have changed his stance on the issue.

Milan's mayor, Beppe Sala accused Fontana of shifting his position from recently being alarmed about the virus, to now ordering “everyone outside”.

“A little more restraint would not be too much to ask for,” Sala told La Repubblica newspaper.

“I am not against an economic recovery, because it affects the work of so many people,” the Milan mayor said. “But we must provide adequate guarantees first to those who go to work.”

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Italian elections LIVE BLOG: Right-wing coalition set for big victory, exit polls show

Exit polls following Italy's elections showed the country is likely to have elected the first far-right government in the country’s postwar history. Follow The Local's latest updates as results come in on election night.

Italian elections LIVE BLOG: Right-wing coalition set for big victory, exit polls show

MAIN POINTS:

  • Polls closed at 11pm
  • Exit polls due before 11:30pm
  • Turnout appears to be lower than 2018 election
  • Right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party expected to win by a landslide

23.25: Meloni looks set to be Italy’s first woman PM if exit polls confirmed

With exit polls (below) suggesting the far-right Brothers of Italy party will come out on top, that means Italy looks set to get its first woman as prime minister.

As head of the party with the most votes, Giorgia Meloni would be expected to lead a right-wing coalition government. However there are suggestions that her coalition partner, League leader Matteo Salvini, might also try to make a bid to become PM.

23.20 Exit polls show big victory for far right

More exit polls are coming in now and, while the percentages vary slightly, they all show the same thing: Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia (FdI) party and the right-wing coalition with her allies, Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, was expected to win a clear majority in both houses of parliament.

FdI won between 22 percent and 26 percent of the vote, according to national broadcaster RAI.

23.10 First exit polls

Polling company Youtrend just presented the first exit poll, giving a large majority to the right-wing bloc, as expected.

It put the right on 42 percent, with the small centre-left coalition led by the PD on 28 percent. This is more or less in line with opinion polls two weeks ago.

Remember these are exit polls and not the official results. There are several other polling companies conducting exit polls tonight, so we’ll also publish those results when they’re out.

23.00 Polls closed

That’s all, folks. Voting is now over, polling stations are closing their doors, and the first exit polls with predicted results will come out within the next half an hour.

22.55 – Campaign blackout?

Election campaigning was supposed to end officially on Friday night, when a blackout begins before the vote to give voters a “period of contemplation”. 

Of course campaign blackouts aren’t that realistic in the time of social media though and it just means candidates get creative with their messaging.

Take for example this TikTok video posted by FdI leader Giorgia Meloni today:

She’s saying “September 25th – I’ve said it all” – a reference to the fact that she’s not really meant to be saying anything. And yes, her surname means ‘melons’.

22:40 – What’s a super-majority in Italy?

Italy’s election on Sunday is expected to produce a far-right government, but how big a majority will it have and what difference does this make?

In Italy there is a difference between a majority and a so-called super-majority. Here’s a quick guide to how the system works, what the difference is, and why it matters so much.

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between a majority and ‘super majority’?

22.30 What are the expected results?

This definitely hasn’t been an election campaign that has kept us on the edge of our seats.

The prediction from the start of the election campaign has been that the right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party will win by a landslide, allowing it to form a government with a large majority.

The most recent opinion polls, published two weeks ago before the pre-election polling embargo began, showed this was by far the most likely outcome.

Italian elections: What’s the difference between a majority and ‘super majority’?

But after what’s been called “one of the worst election campaigns of the post-war period”, with the result looking sure from the start and a severe shortage of any policy to discuss, is there any chance of a surprise result livening things up?

Probably not, the experts say – although voter sentiment has apparently shifted somewhat since the last polls two weeks ago.

Support for the left-leaning Five Star Movement appears to have surged while the hard-right League is flagging, according to pollsters interviewed by Reuters this week.

Still, most said the prediction that the right will take a majority in both houses of parliament and form the next government remains by far the most likely outcome, even if it has been thrown into doubt somewhat by Five Star’s rise.

The polls close in half an hour, and we won’t have much longer to wait after that for the exit polls, which give us an initial, if imperfect, idea of whether the long-predicted result is likely to become reality.

21.50 Long queues, but lower turnout

Long queues were reported at some polling stations around the country today, in some cases with voters queuing before they opened at 7am – leading to speculation that there would be higher turnout than in the 2018 election

But it looks like turnout is in fact lower, according to interior ministry figures, which put it at 51 percent at 7pm – four hours before polls closed – down from 58 percent.

EXPLAINED: Who’s who in Italy’s general election?

The lowest turnout was in the south and islands, according to analysis of the official data by Youtrend, at 40 percent – 12.1 percent lower than in 2018. Political commentators are saying this is likely bad news for the Five Star Movement, which won most of its support from southern regions in 2018.

This highest turnout at 56 percent was in the north-west, which also happens to be where the far-right Brothers of Italy party and the League (formerly the Northern League) have their biggest support base.

Another interesting bit of analysis from Youtrend: turnout is down much more in municipalities with fewer foreign residents (-10.6%) and is down much less in areas where more foreigners live (-5.4 %). “The more foreigners there are, the less the turnout falls”, Youtrend notes.

Lower turnout overall this time isn’t a surprise. Abstentionism was expected to increase, with opinion polls during the election campaign predicting as many as 16 million voters would refrain from voting – Italy has a voting population of just over 46.5 million.

Italian affluenza or voter turnout is generally fairly high by international standards: 73 percent of eligible voters voted in the last parliamentary election in 2018 – though this was the country’s worst-ever rate of participation, and the number has been steadily dropping for years.

Italy’s political leaders were pictured turning out for the vote. Here’s outgoing prime minister, Mario Draghi, who’s not campaigning for re-election and has made it clear he’s not interested in another term.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and his wife Maria Serenella Cappello arrive to cast their vote at the Liceo Mameli polling station in Rome. Photo by RICCARDO ANTIMIANI / ANSA / AFP

21.30 When do we get the first results?

Polls close at 11pm and counting starts immediately after. 

The first exit polls from the country’s leading news media should be out by 11.30. Though they are usually fairly close to the mark, exit polls can’t be relied upon entirely, as the 2013 exit poll debacle showed.

The time needed to announce the first official results depends on how many ballots there are to count. Turnout is expected to be similar to that at the last election in 2018 – maybe slightly lower – so Italian media are predicting 2am for the first official projections based on data from polling stations. Or maybe 3am. We could be in for a long night.

READ ALSO: An introductory guide to the Italian political system

Ballot papers for the election of the Senate are counted first. When that’s complete, volunteers will turn their attention to counting ballots for the lower house of parliament. 

21.00 Italy’s election night begins

Buonasera a tutti and welcome to The Local’s 2022 Italian election blog. There’s a lot at stake in these crucial elections as far right parties Brothers of Italy and the League are expected to win by a landslide.

Voting will close in two hours and we expect the first exit polls shortly after (you can read more here to get a sense of when things will happen tonight), but before then we’ll keep you posted with the latest news, predictions, expert insights and more.

READ ALSO: Far-right Brothers of Italy eyes historic victory as Italy votes

I’m The Local Italy’s editor Clare Speak and I’ll be updating you tonight as the exit polls and first results start to come in.

If you have questions, comments or feedback, please feel free to email or tweet me and I’ll do my best to answer (depending on how busy things get here tonight).

No matter how you feel about the election, I hope you’ll at least enjoy our coverage.

Not sure what to make of it all? Here’s our complete guide to the elections and what’s at stake.

Are you a member of The Local? If not, please consider joining us. If yes, thank you – your support helps us dedicate time and resources to this.

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