As Europe reopens, key virus protections are still elusive

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LaPresse

FILE - In this Monday, April 20, 2020 filer, a woman gets a blood-test taken by medical personnel at a converted gym, in Cisliano, near Milan, Italy. Italys virus reopening phase was supposed to have been accompanied by a series of measures to limit infections in the onetime European epicenter of the pandemic: the distribution of millions of cheap surgical masks to pharmacies and tobacco shops nationwide, a pilot project of 150,000 antibody tests and, eventually, the roll-out of a contact-tracing app. (Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP, File)

ROME – Italy’s virus reopening was supposed to be accompanied by a series of measures to limit infections in the one-time epicenter of Europe's pandemic: the distribution of millions of inexpensive surgical masks to pharmacies nationwide, a pilot project of 150,000 antibody tests and, eventually, the roll-out of a contact-tracing app.

None of these is in place as Italy experiments with its second week of loosening restrictions and looks ahead to Monday's reopening of shops and, in some regions, bars and restaurants.

Italy's commissioner for the emergency, Domenico Arcuri, went on the defensive Tuesday to respond to mounting criticism of his Phase II roll-out.

He insisted “Italians know well what to do” to protect themselves, even if they don't have the tests, masks, contact-tracing or other measures that public health authorities deemed necessary for Italy to reopen in safety.

“Sometimes I make mistakes for which I expect criticism and, if necessary, reprimand, from Italians,” Arcuri said. But he directed the blame at others and repeated that he was working solely in the public’s interest.

Italy is by no means alone in emerging from lockdown without all its infection-prevention pillars in place. And no country has had a blueprint for managing either the COVID-19 outbreak or the reopening phase.

But Italy’s problems epitomize the challenges many countries face as they seek to balance economic and health care needs while reassuring terrified citizens with promises that perhaps were overly optimistic.

France’s pledge to “protect, test and trace” all those who come into contact with a coronavirus patient was dealt a setback Monday when the constitutional court threw out part of its new virus law. The court objected to the contact-tracing language and ordered the government to take extreme care in protecting privacy.