ITALY: RESPONDING TO COVID-19, FEARS OF A SECOND WAVE, HOPES OF A GREEN FUTURE

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The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis like no other. It has caused the worst economic contraction since the Great Depression and has revealed many vulnerabilities and breakages in basic structures from health care to digital technology at schools. Unfortunately, since September, countries across Europe are seeing the resurgence of COVID-19 cases. 

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Overview

The coronavirus has brought unprecedented challenges for governments to ensure, not only the health of their citizens, but also public service continuity. On January 30, 2020, following China’s reporting (December 31, 2019) of a cluster of pneumonia cases of unknown etiology (later identified as a new Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus) in the city of Wuhan, the World Organization Health Department (WHO) has declared the coronavirus epidemic in China to be a public health emergency of international concern. By mid-March, almost all parliaments in the world were in a state of emergency. In Europe, Italy was one of the countries to be hit by the pandemic with the largest number of coronavirus cases and became the first European country to impose national lockdown restrictions on March 10th. From January 3rd​ to October 9th, 2020, there have been 338.398 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Italy, with36,083 deaths. The pandemic has taken lives and disrupted livelihoods in every region, especially in the north. Italian parliamentarians have been forced to take emergency provisions in parliamentary procedure, innovating techniques to connect with the citizenry, and legislating actions on urgent relief packages for communities in need. Compared to France and Spain, the rate of infection in Italy remains relatively low, but in the last few days the spread of the pandemic is accelerating in the country. All Italian regions have seen sharp rises in recent days. On 9th​ October, the daily number of positive cases reached a new post-lockdown high of 5,327, with 983 new cases registered in Lombardy – which remains the worst hit region – and Campania has reported 769 new cases,​ one of the highest numbers yet seen in a single day in Italy. 

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Italian legislation in COVID-19 

The Italian response to coronavirus was characterized by prominent use of governmental legal instruments in the form of decree-laws, prime ministerial decrees and ministerial orders. On January 31, 2020, the Italian Government – after the first precautionary measures adopted starting from 22 January, taking into account the particularly widespread nature of the epidemic – proclaimed a state of emergency and implemented the first measures to contain the contagion on the entire national territory. To reduce the spread of the disease, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed the prime ministerial decree on 9 March, 2020 containing new measures for the containment and contrast of the spread of the COVID-19 virus throughout the country. He also announced a lockdown of the entire country – closing schools, universities, restaurants, bars, museums and other venues across the country. A decree issued on 11 March by the Italian Government says that any movements outside the home are restricted unless motivated by work, health, or urgent need (including food shopping). It is needed to carry a self-certification form for leaving home. On 3 June 2020, the Prime Minister held a press conference at Palazzo Chigi on the reopening of inter-regional travel. After several decrees during the previous months, on 7 October the Council of Ministers n. 66, having regarded the note from the Minister of Health and the opinion of the Technical Scientific

Committee, approved the extension, until January 31, 2021, of the state of emergency in

Italy. 

 

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Actions for investing in a greener Italian future

The UN Secretary General António Guterres warned that COVID-19’s long term impact will be “to look into climate change, because there is a clear demonstration that when we rebuild our economies, we will have a chance to do it in a more sustainable way”. For this reason, some countries have stipulated environmental conditionality for recovery support offered to firms. The recovery is an important opportunity to “build back better”, combining an emphasis on restoring growth and creating jobs with the achievement of environmental goals and objectives. COVID-19 recovery plans must include policies and financial stimulus measures that respond to immediate needs while aligning with long-term environmental and social goals and delivering the urgently required economic transition to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. 

Devising green strategies for the economic recovery is essential. Due to the limitations imposed in relation to COVID-19, in Northern Italy the Copernicus Satellite system has revealed a decline of air pollution,​specifically, nitrogen dioxide concentrations, but emissions have risen by 1% annually over the past decade as growth in energy use from fossil fuels outpaced the rise of low-carbon sources and activities. The green recovery is an opportunity to undertake wider reaching and fundamental restructuring of critical sectors and activities in order to support the transition to low-emission climate-resilient and resource-efficient economies in socially inclusive ways and to enhance the resilience of their economies. Simply reviving the existing ‘brown’ economy will exacerbate irreversible climate change, biodiversity loss and other environmental risks. Therefore, governments should tailor their plans to their country’s specific circumstances. The success of sustainable innovations such as low-carbon infrastructure and technology over the past decade shows how green stimulus can deliver growth and jobs alongside decarbonisation. 

Decarbonisation has high job creation potential. A sustainable recovery will need to deliver new “green jobs” as well contributing to improvements in pay and conditions for workers. On 27th​ May 2020, the European Commission put forward its proposal for a major recovery plan. To ensure that the recovery is sustainable, even, inclusive and fair for all Member States, the Commission has proposed a powerful, modern and revamped long-term EU budget boosted by Next Generation EU. This is an emergency temporary recovery instrument of 750€ billion, to help repair the immediate economic and social damage brought by the coronavirus pandemic, kick-start the recovery and prepare for a better future for the next generation. According to the latest “RenewableEnergy Country Attractiveness Index (RECAI)” report from the consulting company Ernst & Young, Italy is in 19th​ place worldwide for attracting investments in the renewables market, and this demonstrates that Italy is still an important environment for investors to accelerate the energy transition. 

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte recently announced the three pillars that will provide the foundation for the Italy of the future: modernization, inclusivity and a robust energy transition. Italy declared the beginning of a significant shift in the country’s energy and environmental policy, towards decarbonisation. The main objectives are demanding the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, increasing in the share of renewable sources and improving energy efficiency. Furthermore, Italy could see the creation of new professional opportunities throughout the supply chain of investments in renewables. According to ISTAT, in Italy professions linked to the green economy surpassed the threshold of 3 million workers at the end of 2018 and continued to grow in 2019.​ 

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Education crisis in Italy

The shock of the Covid-19 pandemic on education has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners across the world. According to the United Nations, by mid-April 2020, closures of schools and alternative learning spaces had impacted 94% of the world’s student population. Closures of schools and other educational institutions will hamper the provision of essential services to children and communities. The governments had been called to promptly respond to the unexpected needs of our education systems. In particular, the digital transformation of the school environment required enhanced broadband networks and extensive access to internet services. On 14th​ September, millions of Italian students have returned to classrooms, more than six months after schools were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Older Italian teachers and those with underlying illnesses fear this reopening of schools in the country, because it could pose a serious threat to their health. According to the OECD,​ Italy stands out for having the oldest teaching workforce in the EU. Although infections are on the rise, the Italian Education Minister Lucia Azzolina said more than 5,000 extra classrooms had been created to give pupils more space and that she feels she is ruling out a new closure of schools. The Italian government announces that 2 million single-seat benches will be available by the end of October. Instead, as regards the masks, Premier Giuseppe Conte admitted that the government has supplied the schools with sanitizing gel and masks free of charge. Italian officials said the back-to-school strategy involved immediate quarantine of those “in close contact” with a student or teacher testing positive. After a positive result, pupils will be allowed back to school only after returning two negatives, carried out a day apart.

 

Experts say that until a vaccine is found, the key to keeping infections low is to increase testing and contact tracing. Covid-19 pandemic has put the international system to the test and highlighted that multilateralism and collective action are necessary to address challenges that affect us all. Covid-19 vaccine research has stimulated huge scientific effort around the world and international cooperation would allow for a coordinated approach not only to the second wave of coronavirus, but also to other similar emergencies.

References:

http://www.governo.it/it/coronavirus-misure-del-governo

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Chiara Ferro

Attualmente ricopro il ruolo di Junior Political Researcher presso la Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean. Sono laureata in Relazioni Internazionali ed Analisi di Scenario con menzione alla carriera presso l’Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, con una tesi in Politica ed Economia dell’Ambiente e correlazione in Geopolitica Economica sul futuro delle risorse idriche legate al caso studio della Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Con IARI, collaboro con l’associazione inglese “Cop26 and beyond” analizzando nelle mie analisi gli impatti del cambiamento climatico su ambiente e società. La curiosità e la ricerca scientifica sono state determinanti nello sviluppo del mio forte interesse per la geopolitica dell’ambiente e delle risorse energetiche. Tra le mie passioni rientrano la geografia, lo studio delle civiltà antiche, prime su tutte l’antico Egitto e l’antica Grecia, e la degustazione di birre artigianali in giro per il mondo.

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