Italy reopens as PM unveils historic recovery plan

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ROME (AFP) – Italians flocked to bars, restaurants and cinemas following an easing of coronavirus restrictions Monday (April 26), as Prime Minister Mario Draghi unveiled a massive EU-funded plan he said would shape the crisis-hit country’s future.

After months of stop-start restrictions imposed to manage second and third waves of Covid-19, Italy hopes this latest easing will mark the start of something like a normal summer.

“I’ve cleared my schedule,” enthused 71-year-old Ottavio Rosati, a movie director in Rome. “I’m booked up with museums, restaurants and bars… I’m not going to sit still!” Draghi has admitted to taking a “calculated risk” with the reopenings, as infection rates have fallen but Covid-19 deaths still mount by hundreds every day, to more than 119,000.

Italian businesses are desperate to reopen after the pandemic sparked the deepest recession since the end of World War II.

The country is pinning its hopes on a 220 billion euro (S$352 billion) plan funded by the European Union, which Draghi told lawmakers Monday would affect “the country’s destiny”.

Great to be back

Three-quarters of regions dropped Monday into the lower-risk “yellow” category, with bars and restaurants permitted to restart table service outside – including, for the first time in six months, in the evening, although a 10 pm curfew remains in place.

“Finally!” said Daniele Vespa, the 26-year-old head waiter at Baccano, a restaurant near Rome’s Trevi Fountain,, telling AFP: “It’s the start of a return to normality.” Cinemas, theatres and concert halls can also open at 50 per cent capacity, followed by the staggered opening of swimming pools, gyms, sporting events and theme parks by July 1.

In Milan, the Beltrade cinema claimed the title of being the first to reopen after six months of inaction with a special 6am screening of “Caro Diario,” a classic Italian film from the 1990s.

“I went with my husband, and it was great to be back together in a cinema and do this crazy thing,” said Francesca Pierangeli, one of 82 people at the sold-out show.

Draghi had been under intense pressure to