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Italy reopens EU borders after virus crisis

World

Italy has reopened its borders to visitors from the rest of the European Union and dropped a ban on travel between its regions.

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Wednesday’s relaxation of novel coronavirus containment measures came amid a steady drop in infection numbers and pressure to reopen the economy after strict lockdown measures.

“Today is a very significant date,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio wrote on Facebook, stressing that the country “is restarting and is preparing for a return to normality.”

Di Maio said he would hold a series of meetings with European counterparts to “show everybody that Italy is ready to welcome foreign tourists.”

First on the agenda was a meeting with France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian later Wednesday in Rome. Di Maio was also scheduled to be in Germany on Friday, Slovenia on Saturday and Greece on Tuesday.

Italy went into national lockdown on March 10. Restrictions have been eased gradually starting from early May, but safety precautions including social distancing still apply.

Visitors from non-EU countries that are part of the Schengen zone, like Switzerland and Norway, as well as Britain, can also freely travel to Italy as of Wednesday.

Quarantine rules still apply for travellers from the rest of the world.

On Tuesday, Italy reported 318 new daily infections, down from a peak of 6557 on March 21, and 55 new fatalities, compared to a peak of 969 on March 27.

It comes as the man behind Sweden’s pandemic strategy says the country  should have done more to combat the coronavirus and prevent a much higher national COVID-19 death rate than in neighbouring countries.

Nearly 4500 Swedes have died in the outbreak, a higher mortality rate than in Denmark, Norway and Finland, and criticism has been growing over the government’s decision not to impose lockdown measures as strictly as elsewhere in Europe.

Anders Tegnell, the chief epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency, said that in hindsight Sweden should have done more.

“If we were to run into the same disease, knowing exactly what we know about it today, I think we would end up doing something in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” Tegnell told Swedish radio.

“Yes, I think we could have done better in what we did in Sweden, clearly.”

While most of Europe, including Norway, Denmark and Finland, closed schools, shops and businesses, bringing much of society to a halt, Sweden has relied more on voluntary measures, social distancing and common-sense hygiene advice to stem the outbreak.

It shut care homes to visitors in late March, but around half of the deaths in the country have been among elderly people living in care facilities.

Tegnell said it was hard to know which measures taken elsewhere might have been the most effective in Sweden.

“Maybe we will find this out now that people have started removing measures, one at a time,” he said. “And then maybe we will get some kind of information on what, in addition to what we did, we could do without adopting a total lockdown.”

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said the government would launch an inquiry into the handling of the pandemic.

-with AAP

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