Venice creeps back to life after virus lockdown

A gondola sails at sunset on the Grand Canal in front of the Palazzo Ducale - Doge's Palace in Venice.
·2 min read

The Italian city of Venice slowly stirred back to life this week as some shops reopened and residents tentatively ventured outside -- all in masks while keeping a safe distance from others.

Italy allowed bookshops and stationery and children's clothing stores to reopen across the country from Tuesday, the first easing of strict lockdown rules in place nationwide since March 9.

While some regions refused to adhere to the new guidelines, fearing a resurgence of the outbreak that has devastated the country, the canal-strewn city of Venice allowed some shops to resume business.

In the Veneto region, of which Venice is the capital, stores were allowed open two days a week.

But gone were the hordes of selfie-stick wielding tourists and the water taxis racing through the Grand Canal that normally pack the hotspot.

Instead, locals loosely scattered through the city's narrow passageways, all wearing required masks and standing a safe two meters (6.5 feet) apart, per regulation.

One woman, Caterina, ventured into an open bookstore with a bottle of disinfecting gel at the entrance, and came away with books for herself and others.

"I bought many books," she told AFP. "I needed them. Like an addict -- for something of substance."

The gradual reopening of Italy's battered economy has been dubbed "Phase Two" by the government.

The International Monetary Fund projected this week that Italy's growth could dip by 9.1 percent this year.

Tourist havens such as Venice have been particularly pummelled by lockdown orders that have kept millions indoors and closed all stores except for essential supermarkets and pharmacies.

Some shopkeepers said rules about reopening were murky.

Stationery store owner Elena Franzon said she was allowed to open only part of her store seling goods but not the photocopying section.

"This 'Phase two' is still not very clear, because we have few indications, (the rules) are fragmentary," said Franzon, who like many merchants is struggling to pay staff wages and taxes.

The Italian government has said lockdown orders could be lifted on May 3.