Blame game afoot in second wave Italy

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The infection rate in Italy is out of control and the semi-lockdown measures announced by PM Conte are backfiring over economic woes, while his government is torn and turning against him.

Tiredness, anxiety, rage, frustration, pain. Italy’s PM Giuseppe Conte used these words to acknowledge how the Italians feel about the spread of coronavirus, which is back on the rise. He was right, of course; but the public is now aiming these feelings at his government.

On Sunday Mr Conte announced a new batch of measures to contain the spread of infections. His decree closed high schools, theatres, cinemas, gyms and swimming pools, and barred restaurants and bars from remaining open past 6.00 PM. All on top of a nationwide curfew to limit social gatherings.

The workers in said businesses, already battered by the previous lockdown and the costly compliance to sanitary measures, did not take it in stride. The new decree disproportionally affects them, and financial help from the State has been spotty at best so far.

Many took to the streets (peacefully) to express their anger, even as some episodes of violence, believed to be at least partly instigated by small groups of extremists, took place in the past days.

Meanwhile, it’s becoming clear that these measures will not be enough to flatten the curve. On Tuesday, doctors in Lombardy warned of their ICU wards nearing full capacity. Nationally, testing and tracing is failing – and getting tested for Covid-19 can take days, or weeks.

Doubtlessly, Mr Conte is in no easy position; but then again, the whole government’s lack of preparedness is coming to light. And now those same members of the governing majority, mindful of the mounting public rage, are joining the opposition in the blame game.

The Covid-19 crisis has mostly seen Mr Conte at the helm, torn between moderates and interventionist, scientists and economists, but ultimately responsible for the final decisions, which is often profoundly different from what his allies wanted. He was the one most widely praised for Italy’s initial response, but now he’s the one that’s most exposed to criticism.

Perhaps this is why even governing allies are pressuring their PM to change tack.

Not even the Five Star Movement, senior governing partner and responsible for Mr Conte’s ascension, is falling behind him. The party’s most influential politician, Luigi Di Maio, has expressed concern for disenfranchised workers, as if it wasn’t his government that approved the measures.

Nicola Zingaretti, leader of the second-biggest party in the governing coalition (the Democratic Party) called for a “quantum leap” in the rigorousness of the emergency handling. “This means authoritativeness, seriousness. And speed. We must recover the State’s credibility, or else disenchantment and anger will prevail.”

Matteo Renzi, head of the third-biggest coalition member (Italia Viva) took a more aggressive approach and called to re-write the restrictions – a day after having greenlighted them. Mr Zingaretti then accused him of keeping his foot in two fields.

Mr Conte does not seem to fear for the stability of his government, trusting that no-one would like to see it collapse during a global emergency. Meanwhile, members of the opposition are seizing on the protests to ratchet up the pressure on him, blaming him of not considering them when discussing the new measures. Needless to say, a cross-partisan alliance to face the pandemic is evermore unlikely.

It certainly doesn’t help that Mr Conte’s hinted at the vaccine being available starting from December, an optimistic scenario bordering on wishful thinking, according to experts. Italians also remember March and April, and how the “temporary” measures were dragged on for months; they know this is not a month or so of reduced freedoms, as was promised, but the prelude of another period of hardships.

The poor handling of the contagion has tanked the government’s credibility and brought it down from the self-congratulatory podium it’s been on since the first wave was quashed. These new measures, perceived as being random, unfair and ineffective, are testing the limits of the Italians’ tolerance.

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