Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that essential services like pharmacies and grocers will stay open.

By Maria Yagoda
Updated March 11, 2020

Two days after Italy was put on lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, with new restrictions barring movement in and out of the country, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that all restaurants, bars, cafés, and "non-essential" commercial services must temporarily close.

Conte announced on Wednesday night that pharmacies, grocers, supermarkets, and select other essential services would remain open. The announcement, made the same day that the World Health Organization deemed the global coronavirus spread a "pandemic," will last until at least March 25, putting hundreds of thousands of people out of work in the meantime (if they weren't already). Many restaurants had already been closed before the announcement due to lack of business and precautionary measures. There are currently over 12,000 cases of COVID-19 in the country, with Northern Italy the hardest hit.

Jeremy Woodhouse / Getty Images

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Alberto Ragoni, a cook in Rome, works for a corporate restaurant group, so as business began dipping drastically in February—and now with the mandatory closure—he feels lucky that he can still count on a paycheck. But this is not the case for most of the country's restaurant workers.

"The problem is for all those family restaurants that Italy is made of," said Ragoni. Even without a global pandemic, they can barely make ends meet with the high cost of labor and taxes, he said, "so with this situation, I don't know if they will survive. I work in a multibillion company, so my situation is different. We'll get back on track. [But] all those amazing trattorie with aunts, mothers, and grandparents in the kitchens and nephews in the front, those are really suffering."

Many restaurants have taken to social media to post updates about their businesses. Gino Sorbillo, of the famed Naples pizzeria, announced his restaurants' closures in an Instagram post on Wednesday, offering a message of hope for the industry: "You'll see that we will all return stronger and better than ever before."

Despite Conte's announcement of a two-week shutdown, many people who own restaurants or have jobs at them are expecting to be out of work for much longer.

One worker at a paninoteca in Lecce, a city in Puglia, told me that nobody really knows when businesses will be able to reopen.

"We only know that we have to stay in our houses," he said. "We think that we'll re-open after April 3, but I think that we'll stay closed for much longer."

As is true in many countries, Chinese restaurants seem to have been hit the hardest of all, with business plummeting since early February due to misinformation and xenophobic claims.

"Chinese restaurants are in deep trouble, I'm afraid," a Bologna man told me, noting that the governor of Veneto—one of the region's hardest hit—had gone on a racist screed last month, blaming Chinese eating habits for the spread of the virus. "They were empty at the beginning of February."

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