Milan edges out of lockdown

For the past two months, Matteo Dicanosa’s restaurants in the heart of Milan’s financial district have been shut as one of Italy’s biggest cities went into lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus — a financial blow for the entrepreneur. “My revenue has been zero,” he said.

Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, is slowly starting to emerge from lockdown. On Monday, about 4.5m people returned to work, the latest stage in a phased reopening that allows restaurants such as Mr Dicanosa’s to sell food for takeaway.

But many of the bankers in Italy’s financial hub are still working remotely. Demand for Mr Dicanosa’s Hawaiian fish and rice bowls and the Apulian calzone, known as priscio, at his fast-food restaurants in the central Via Santa Tecla was slow.

“Normally we’d have a five-metre queue outside the Hawaiian takeaway restaurant at lunch time. That won’t be possible going forward, including because of social distancing measures,” Mr Dicanosa said. Revenue was down more than 90 per cent compared with a pre-lockdown Monday, he said.

Milan, the capital of the Lombardy region that was the centre of the European outbreak in February, still has 8,500 cases of coronavirus. Italian authorities remain committed to a cautious and phased reopening across the country.

While factories and building sites can resume work, shops, beauty salons, schools, gyms and theatres remain shut.

Business owners have criticised this approach, saying that southern regions where the infection rate is close to zero should not be forced to wait until worse-hit Milan and Lombardy are ready to open.

The national confederation of small businesses, CNA, warned that one in four of its members nationwide would go bankrupt before they were allowed to reopen. A hospitality sector association, MIO, said 50 per cent of restaurants and cafés in Italy were likely to close permanently.

A waiter at Caffe Cracco in Milan handles a takeaway coffee order © Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty

“Many local entrepreneurs are offering an immediate response, without waiting for subsidies or government funding,” said Massimo Doris, chief executive of Banca Mediolanum. But he added: “This crisis will see Italy’s non-performing loans pile grow again, but to what extent depends on the type of government intervention.”

Like many of the 10,000 Milanese who work in finance, staff at Banca Mediolanum have been working remotely during the lockdown, said Mr Doris. “I envisage a progressive reopening path where citizens’ discipline and responsibility will be pivotal,” he said.

Editor’s note

The Financial Times is making key coronavirus coverage free to read to help everyone stay informed. Find the latest here.

There are already signs that Milan will be a different city after the lockdown. Mayor Giuseppe Sala has announced that 23km of new bike lanes will be complete by mid-May, to take pressure off the public transport network. He has also temporarily lifted the ban on cars in the city centre.

The Polytechnic University of Milan, Italy’s largest technical university, now offers all its courses online, through live streaming services. In March, 1,500 graduations took place remotely and all of the 45,000 students will complete the academic year by July.

“There’s been a huge cultural shift that wouldn’t have taken place without the coronavirus,” said Ferruccio Resta, the dean of the university.

“We are planning to carry on with a mixture of remote learning and physical lab activities during the next academic year as we anticipate many of our students won’t be able to reach Milan by September,” Mr Resta said.

A worker paints signs for the new cycle path in central Milan © Claudio Furlan/LaPresse/AP

The Milan polytechnic will rely on AI-based software to carry out 12,000 admission tests online. “We can’t go back to how we used to be . . . this situation has changed us forever,” Mr Resta said.

Alice Angelotti and Anita Ballabio, the owners of Corteccia, a bookstore in the western part of the city, set up an online sale and delivery system during the lockdown. “Our bookstore is too small to safely let the public in to mingle, so we’ll help them select the titles they’re interested in online,” Ms Ballabio said.

Meanwhile, Mr Dicanosa’s 50 employees are on a temporary unemployment scheme, where the state pays their salaries for several weeks, but he envisages that he will have to make lay-offs. The reopening, Mr Dicanosa said, was more to motivate staff than make money. “The choice is between losing more or a bit less than the cost of our leases,” he said.

In the coming weeks, Mr Dicanosa and other restaurateurs will be able to seat one-third of their usual customers inside their establishments, though they may have to serve themselves. Mr Dicanosa said he did not know if it would make sense to reopen another, more formal, restaurant and reduce his covers from 130 to 30.

For now, he is bracing himself for a period of adjustment.

“After every crisis or in postwar periods, there’s an adjustment followed by a new normal, so there will be a new normal, eventually, but what it looks like depends on the clarity of the guidelines or lack thereof and the extent of the government’s support,” Mr Dicanosa said.

Italy’s exit from lockdown

May 4

Italians are allowed to visit their relatives within their region. They can practise individual sporting activities outdoors. They can return to work in factories and building sites.

Personal protective equipment will be mandatory on public transport and in public indoor spaces. Restaurants can reopen for takeaway meals.

May 18

Shops can reopen. Shopping centres will remain closed. White-collar workers may be asked to return to the office.

June 1

Restaurants can seat customers at a two-metre distance from each other, probably without table service. Hairdressers and beauty salons can reopen if they operate a booking system and ensure a two-metre distance between customers or let them in one at a time.

September

Schools are likely to reopen in September. Summer camps should operate during the summer to allow parents to return to work. It is unclear when theatres, beaches, clubs and pubs will reopen.

 

— to www.ft.com

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