Pope says obey rules during exit from COVID-19 lockdown

Pope says obey rules during exit from coronavirus lockdowns

Pope Francis. (AFP)

Pope Francis on Tuesday urged people to obey rules aimed at preventing a devastating second wave of infections as their leaders begin to ease coronavirus lockdowns.

Francis spoke at the start of his daily private morning Mass, where he has been dedicating brief opening comments to various themes related to coronavirus.

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From Europe to the United States to Asia, officials have been dealing with tensions and criticism of stay-at-home orders.

"In these days in which we are starting to have regulations to come out of quarantine, let us pray to the Lord that he gives his people, all of us, the grace of prudence and obedience to the regulations so that the pandemic does not return," the leader of the world's 1.3 billion Roman Catholic said.

Francis has been in lockdown himself, with his events streamed on the internet with no public participation.

His comments were particularly relevant in Italy, where Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's plans for a staged end to Europe's longest lockdown has been criticised by those who say it is too slow and limited.

Italy, which at 27,000 has the world's second-highest number of coronavirus deaths, will allow factories and building sites to reopen and permit limited family visits in the first stage starting on May 4.

One regional governor broke with Conte, allowing more freedom of movement than allowed in the national plan.

Even Italy's Catholic bishops criticised Conte for not lifting a ban on holding Masses at the start of the exit strategy.

Conte has said he will review their demands and come up with a plan soon to allow Masses to be held under safe conditions. 

 

Conte defends snail-paced end to lockdown

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte defended himself on Tuesday from widespread criticism of his highly cautious plans for a slow-placed end to Europe's longest coronavirus lockdown.

The government has said strict curbs put in place seven weeks ago to curb the disease would be eased from May 4, when parks, factories and construction sites reopen.

However shops must remain shuttered until May 18, while restaurants, bars and hairdressers will stay closed until June 1 and students won't be back at school before September.

The softly-softly approach has been criticised by businesses, lambasted by the opposition and even questioned by parties within Conte's fragile coalition, worried by the huge economic and social toll of the long-lasting clampdown.

But the prime minister said he had no regrets.

"If I could turn the clock back, I'd do it all again," Conte told La Stampa daily. "I cannot let myself be swayed by public opinion, even if I understand those feelings very well myself."

Conte acknowledged the scientific committee advising him was "rigid", but said the overriding concern was to prevent a second wave of infections.

"If only one patient ... managed to set off an outbreak and trigger such a contagion that we were forced to close all of Italy, can you imagine what could happen with the 100,000 positive cases that we have at the moment," he said.

Despite the criticism from companies and politicians, Conte is enjoying a surge in popularity among ordinary voters. A poll published on Saturday by the Ipsos agency put his approval rating at 66%, up 18 points in two months.

Another survey on Monday by the Demopolis pollsters showed his decision to keep schools closed until September was backed by 78% of respondents.

Italy has been one of the world's hardest-hit countries, registering almost 27,000 deaths and 200,000 cases since the first coronavirus patient was identified on Feb. 21. At present, some 105,813 people still have the disease.

However, the numbers have been falling over the past two weeks and some regional governors have announced they will ease restrictions faster than the government wants.