The reopening of restaurants, cafes and shops in Italy earlier this week brought hope to return to normal for many Italians after being sentenced to a two-month corona virus prison sentence.
But the picture is not so bright.
In a sign of further problems ahead for the Italian economy, many of these companies remain closed due to insufficient funds, new sanitation rules or lack of customers representing a serious brake to reopen.
“If I have to open tomorrow, I won’t have one client,” said Pietro Lepore, owner of Harry’s Bar in Rome, Via Veneto.
“There are 12 luxury hotels on the road. Sixty percent of my business comes from their customers and all of them are closed,” Lepore, whose 24 employees are all on leave, told AFP.
It was the same from Rome to Florence and Venice, where a spokesman for the city’s shop keeper association, Cristina Giussani, pondered whether cafes and restaurants should be opened “for seagulls and doves” given the lack of tourists.
The Italian economy is very dependent on tourism. This sector makes up 13 percent of the country’s output while employing around 4.2 million Italians, or 15 percent of jobs in Italy.
Some have relied on reopening the Italian border to Europe in early June as an important turning point. But many are wondering whether tourists will feel comfortable enough to travel, or whether they will have money to do it.
The Italian small and medium business association, Confesercenti, found in a survey published on Saturday that nearly a third of the million companies that were allowed to reopen on Monday said they would not do it.
– ‘Problems that cannot be solved’ –
For 68 percent, reopening will not be profitable. Thirteen percent say they have health and safety issues and the same number say government directives are too vague.
“For business, the reopening is a race against time and obstacles,” the group wrote, calling for “direct economic assistance.”
“Entrepreneurs fear the impact of the rigidity of the guidelines on activities, and remain squeezed between an increase in operating costs and a predictable decrease in revenue,” Confesercenti said.
New regulations – which can result in fines if not followed – are very difficult to respect smaller establishments, said Valerio Maccari of Confesercenti.
“A typical Roman Trattoria, for example, does not have a lot of space and in this case ensures physical distance is an insurmountable problem,” he said.
The regulation includes sanitation measures such as setting up a table with a distance of 1 meter (3.3 feet) between them and cleaning twice a day at the company, as well as masks and gloves for workers.
But restaurants also have to deal with more documents, such as recording the names and telephone numbers of customers for easier tracking in cases of coronavirus that eventually occur.
In Rome, restaurant owner Tatjana Pavelic said earlier this week that he had opened only one of the four restaurants he operated along the normally busy road to the Pantheon.
Tourists were not seen, but lunch traffic from local clients was also disrupted because people were still working from home, he said.
– Tomorrow is bankrupt? –
“We have so many clients working in the office,” Pavelic said. “And tourism hasn’t started even for Italians.”
Pavelic said he had asked for a reduction in the rental price, based on the amount of pedestrian traffic, but was still waiting for an answer.
Public anger increases.
Throughout the capital, protest posters were seen in many shop windows: “Without government assistance, we can NOT reopen”.
In Milan on Saturday, small shop owners and taxi drivers staged a protest, saying the government did not offer concrete steps to help them. Many are calling for a tax break to help them through difficult times.
“I’m not opening today for bankrupt tomorrow,” read some of their banners.
“We all want to work here,” a protester shouted at a megaphone. “But we need support to do it.”
A survey conducted by the Italian Public Companies Federation (Fipe) on April 4 found that 96 percent of bars, restaurants and similar businesses considered government support insufficient.
They mentioned the need for immediate liquidity to cover the lack of income, or credit with zero or subsidized interest, as well as cancellation of taxes that must be paid.
At the other end of Italian shoes, in Avola, Sicily, restaurant owner Gianpaolo Molisena has decided to remain closed for now, one of about 5,000 such companies closes their doors in Sicily, a quarter of the total.
If he reopens, Molisena will cost “100 (euros) to collect 30,” he said. The restaurant usually employs six people.
“In addition, the spirit of the restaurant does not exist, the charm of dining with friends … is lost with all these rules,” he said.
“Customers feel under surveillance.”
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