ROME, May 17 (Xinhua) -- On Monday, Italy will take its biggest step yet toward reopening its economy after nearly ten weeks of national lockdown.
Starting Monday, shops, restaurants, bars, barbershops, beauty salons, museums, and beachfront operators will all be allowed to reopen as long as they respect rules for social distancing and disinfecting facilities. Italians will also be allowed to move within the region they live in. But schools will remain closed. The current plan is for them to reopen only in September.
The decision to keep schools closed is controversial, especially since the newly-reopened economy will see more parents heading out to work while children have no place to go.
Minister of Education Lucia Azzolina said the decision to keep schools closed was based on health concerns.
"The easy thing would have been to reopen the schools, but we acted prudently," the minister told Italian reporters last week. "Keeping the schools closed has allowed us to save lives by slowing the spread of the contagion."
Traditionally, the decisions to close schools in Italy -- usually for bad weather or in the wake of a natural disaster -- are taken by local mayors, and rarely does a closure last for more than a few days. But if schools remain closed until September, it means students will have been out of the classroom for seven months by the time they reopen.
In some parts of Italy, including some provinces of the northern region of Piedmont and in parts of southern Italy not hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak, mayors have threatened to reopen schools despite the rules of the national quarantine. But no city has so far disregarded the rules completely.
For students who are old enough -- usually those above the age of around ten, teachers and students are carrying out some form of lessons online. But there are worries that such a long period out of the classroom will worsen educational results for Italian students compared to those in other countries, where schools will be allowed to reopen sooner.
For younger students, the lockdown represents a bigger challenge since one of the main roles of school at that age is socialization.
Two mayors of the cities in Piedmont said that small children should be allowed to gather so that their parents can go to work. Alberto Villani, president of the Italian Pediatric Society, a member of Azzolina's task force on school reopening, said such a move, however, would not take into account how difficult it would be to have small children respect social distancing rules or to wear masks, and it would also ignore the risks to the teachers who would have to work in crowded environment.
"It is absolutely premature to bring children of any age back to class," Villani told local media Il Fatto Quotidiano. "The indications of the technical-scientific committee, taking into account [all of the] trends and the numbers, tell us the situation is still worrying."
Though the current plan is for schools to reopen only for the fall semester, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte did give some hope to those hoping for an earlier reopening when he said quarantine deadlines in place could be moved up if the epidemiological data on the outbreak in Italy improved going forward.