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Walk the dog or no? Italians unsure what virus decree allows

ROME – Can you walk the dog? Take the kids to the playground or out for a gelato? Go to the bank? These questions and more swirled in Italy on Thursday after the government imposed more restrictions on work, play and routine tasks of life in an effort to stem the exponential spread of the new coronavirus.

But as is often the case in Italy, the answer depends.

On paper, the government-imposed restrictions are clear: residents must avoid “every movement” outside their immediate areas except for work, health care or activities of “strict necessity” such as grocery shopping. Italians were told to carry a form with them at all times explaining where they are going and why. Police are out in piazzas, train stations and traffic circles to check documents, issue fines and send people home if their explanations or paperwork is wanting.

However, the government regulations and what people are drawing from them have evolved in the past week. The rapid sequence of increasingly restrictive decrees created contradictions, confusion and not a small amount of chaos about what exactly is allowed and what isn’t.

These are some of the lockdown orders and how they're being interpreted.

WHAT’S OPEN, WHAT’S NOT?

Supermarkets, pharmacies, post offices, produce markets and banks are open. So are computer repair and stationary shops, plumbing businesses and public transportation. All other retail stores and services are closed, as are restaurants, cafes, pubs and gelato shops.

"We can remain open because we’re part of the information line,” Rome newsstand owner Angelo Nesta said.

But he added: “We see very few people because they have absorbed the message of the government to stay home as much as possible."

WHAT ABOUT FACTORIES, FARMS AND FINANCE?

The government said banks, factories, industrial cleaning services and agricultural production were “guaranteed" to operate. But on Thursday, factory workers in the north went on strike, demanding better health protections if they are forced to work.

The restrictions left some wiggle room for other kinds of businesses. Restaurants that provide prepared food, for delivery or takeout, can stay open as long as workers remain a meter (yard) apart from each other. At the bakery in the Lombardy town of Codogno, where the first positive case was registered in Italy’s north, Roberto Zamprodi made sandwiches Thursday for the staff of the bank across the street.

While business is good, “it’s not worth the extra money,” he said.

CAN YOU TAKE A WALK IN THE PARK?

The national government, in a continuously updated FAQ section on its website, says public parks and gardens can remain open “to guarantee outdoor sport” that is done individually, such as jogging. But the government says no outdoor group activities are allowed, such as pickup soccer games.

On Thursday, police sent home people they spotted sitting on park benches in Rome's Villa Borghese. The mayor of Verona, in the hard-hit Veneto region, ordered the closure of the city’s 99 playgrounds and parks, arguing that residents weren’t respecting the social distancing rule. And Florence Mayor Dario Nardella marveled at citizens strolling through the city's usually tourist-clogged piazzas.

“If you go for a jog in the park, you’re not going to be arrested. But if we want to stop this virus, stay at home,” the mayor said.

But what about walking dogs?

"Surely, taking your dog out to do his business is a valid motivation,” Italian civil protection chief Angelo Borrelli said.

BLANKET MEASURES FOR VARYING RISK

The new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, in most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Italy is the European epicenter of the outbreak, with more than 15,000 cases and more than 1,000 dead.

For families with young children who have been home from school for weeks already, the nationwide emergency measures are a test in creativity and patience.

“With boys, they’re like dogs. You need to run them," said Silvia von Kittlitz, a Rome mother with three sons ages 6, 4 and 3 months.

Faced with conflicting information from the Italian government, police and other mothers, von Kittlitz said she is still taking her boys out to the park each day but during off-peak hours to avoid crowds.

She said she knows there are families with greater challenges.

“How do you keep a 2-year-old indoors? It’s a nightmare," she said.

HOW IS THE MESSAGE GETTING OUT?

After the first case cluster emerged in Italy's northern Lombardy region on Feb. 21, the city of Milan launched a promotional campaign to counter the economic impact. The #Milanonosiferma (Milan doesn’t stop) mantra has since been replaced by a national campaign, #IoRestoaCasa (I’m staying home).

To illustrate the point, the ballet corps of Milan’s famed La Scala theater made a cellphone video montage of how dancers were staying in shape at home by performing plies while holding onto a door handle, pirouettes in the kitchen and tendus on an apartment terrace.

La Scala spokesman Paolo Besana said the spark for the video surfaced spontaneously after ballerinas posted selfies and videos on social media.

“Then came the idea of bringing these homemade cellphone videos together to give the idea of a community of dancers who continue to train, and in some way be together even if they can’t go to rehearsal at the theater,” he said.

The video ends with the corps' own hashtag: #ANDRATUTTOBENE. (It will all be alright.)

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AP correspondent Colleen Barry contributed from Codogno, Italy, Alessandra Tarantino contributed.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.