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America should learn from the success of Italy's coronavirus lockdown

A shopper has his temperature scanned as he

A shopper has his temperature scanned as he stands in a long line waiting to enter at the Esselunga supermarket in San Donato, in the outskirts of Milan, Italy on April 11, 2020. So far, Italy's lockdown has begun to yield positive results as the number of coronavirus-related cases and deaths slowly ticks down. Credit: AP/Claudio Furlan

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GUARDIA SANFRAMONDI, Italy — We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel in Italy.

In recent weeks, both the number of reported cases and deaths from the coronavirus here has begun to drop. On April 16, there were a reported 525 COVID-19-related deaths, down from 578 the day before. There were 3,786 new cases confirmed on Thursday, April 16, from 2,667 the day before and the largest rise in four days. Though we're far from where we need to be, we’re beginning to see the results of the nationwide lockdown hard at work and starting to feel that there is an end in sight to our nightmare.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte decided to impose a nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown, which began on March 10, will continue until at least May 3. The lives of 60 million Italians were worth the sacrifice of the national economy. There are no soccer games, no restaurants to dine at, no malls to shop at and no performances of any type to attend. Italy is still closed for business.

Giuseppe's decision appears to be working. “The curve has started its descent and the number of deaths has started to drop,” Italy’s national health institute director Silvio Brusaferro told reporters. Italy has taken more drastic measures than any other country when it came to a full lockdown.

Unfortunately, in the United States, each state acted for itself. Governors made individual decisions, as opposed to the federal government imposing a national shutdown as Italy's central government did. With all due to respect to America's commander in chief, learn from Italy's terrible experience: Say what you will about the economic consequences, shutdown is required to get to where Italy has gotten if you want to see the number of infections decline.

And in Italy, where health officials believe the virus seems to have peaked in certain areas, the government insists that the lockdown remain in place. The government plans to implement a “phase two” of the lockdown, before reaching “phase three,” which is when the country would return to normal.

What exactly is “phase two” has yet to be announced. It is expected that with phase two, social distancing will remain in effect and people would still be urged to wear gloves and masks when they go out. However, we still don't know who will decide what should be reopened and how: Would some businesses get priority to spur economic activity? Would Italians trust that it is safe, or would many of them be concerned about risk as they are ordered to return to work?

Personally, the shutdown and stay-at-home orders should not be eased until we see a deeper drop in the number of COVID-19 cases. What makes this virus so frightening is just how easy it can be spread, so there should be no reason to let our guards down just to reopen the economy. The economy will mean nothing if there are no people left to support it.

Unfortunately, the best way to go about this — whether in Italy or the United States — is with patience, which many of us seem not to have. There should be no rush to open businesses or schools. The health and safety of people should always remain the priority. Once there has been a significant drop in cases, with a very slow, almost non-existent growth pattern, then and only then, should we consider reopening businesses and schools.

It’s tough, and we all want our freedom back. But America, be patient.

Caroline Chirichella is a former New Yorker now living and working in Italy as a chef and freelance writer.

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