There were feelings of relief and trepidation as people in Italy returned to the streets after almost two months indoors under a strict lockdown.

Rina Sondhi, a chef.

‘Liberated’: Rina Sondhi, a chef. Photograph: Angela Giuffrida/The Guardian

“I literally haven’t been out of the house,” said Rina Sondhi, who lives in the Umbrian town of Orvieto. “The biggest shock for me was the fresh air. Today I feel liberated, but with caution – that’s the important thing, we can have the freedom but we must be really careful.”

An estimated 4 million people returned to work on Monday as part of what the Italian government called the second phase of the country’s coronavirus emergency, with the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, appealing to the public in a Facebook post on Sunday night to “act responsibly”.

Trenord, the company that manages train services in Lombardy, Italy’s industrial hub and the region worst affected by the outbreak, said the commuter flow in the morning rush hour was about 30% of pre-outbreak levels.

The easing of restrictions is gradual, with factories geared towards exports and construction sites allowed to resume activity immediately. Bars and restaurants can offer takeaway services but will not fully reopen until 1 June. Retailers, museums and libraries will open from 18 May, hairdressers and gyms from 1 June and schools from September.

Jaskaran Singh, a bar worker, says he is happy shops are reopening.

Jaskaran Singh, a bar worker, says he is happy shops are reopening. Photograph: Angela Giuffrida/The Guardian

Usually buzzing with activity in the morning, people wearing face masks queued outside bars in Orvieto as they waited for their espresso. “This is a great step even if we have to remain cautious – it gives you something else to smile about,” said Slavik Cebanu.

Jaskaran Singh, who works in Caffè Barrique, said: “We are happy to be able to open even if things are still restricted, and to see some movement. I just hope everything goes well.”

Although the infection rate has been steadily falling, fear of the virus lingers. The vast majority of daily new cases are being registered in the northern regions of Lombardy, Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto. No new cases have been recorded in Umbria for the past few days.

“Certainly, the fact that there are zero cases is important for us, but at the same time it doesn’t mean we’re fully secure as the virus is still there,” said Valentina Santanicchio, a chef whose restaurant in Orvieto, Capitano del Popolo, has been providing home deliveries. “In some ways, I’m more afraid than when we closed, as a lot will now depend on people managing the moment in a responsible way.”

People emerge from their homes in the Umbrian town of Orvieto.

People emerge from their homes in the Umbrian town of Orvieto. Photograph: Angela Giuffrida/The Guardian

Maintaining physical distancing will be crucial to ensuring Covid-19, which has claimed almost 29,000 lives in Italy, is kept at bay. People can now visit relatives and partners within their regions and go for a walk or exercise in a park, but most civil liberties remain curtailed. Travelling between regions is still banned, unless it is for a valid reason.

Walter Ricciardi, the scientist advising the health ministry on its coronavirus measures, said the country would go straight back into lockdown if the infection rate rose again. “We’re still in a risky phase,” he told La Repubblica. “It will take two weeks to see how it’s going.”

Drone footage shows empty roads in Italy amid coronavirus lockdown – video

In Lazio, the region surrounding Rome, 53 new cases were recorded on Sunday. “Slowly, I feel optimistic, but let’s just hope we don’t go crazy and start peaking again,” said Marsha De Salvatore, an English teacher and founder of Rome’s Comedy Club.

De Salvatore has thalassemia, a blood disorder that requires transfusions every two to three weeks. “I’ll take walks as far as possible but for the rest, things will mostly stay the same,” she said. “The one thing I can’t wait to do, once more restrictions are lifted, is have a coffee in a bar.”


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