The coronavirus is a stress test for democracy

The list of sites that are closed is long: day cares, schools, universities; museums, cinemas, theaters. The Italian soccer league has canceled all matches; public gatherings are banned—no weddings, funerals, or religious services. Public transportation and trains are still running and airports are open, though with restrictions and a sharp reduction in frequency. The measures are stringent, but the language of the decree is somewhat flexible. To leave their immediate areas, people will need to fill out an “auto-certification”—a legally binding document stating what crucial need requires them to get on a plane or train, and why they can’t defer the trip—or risk arrest and a fine.

Goods are still circulating and essential services still functioning. Grocery stores are open, and so are restaurants and bars, but with a 6 p.m. curfew and only if they can ensure that guests remain three feet apart. Today, some Italian politicians from the right-wing opposition League party are calling for even more drastic measures, including closing all shops except grocery stores.

Italy is offering some cushions to soften this blow. Mortgage payments will be suspended. The government is exploring proposals to let people delay paying their bills and other taxes, as well as tax breaks for businesses and vouchers for child care. There has been unrest—some runs on supermarkets and riots at prisons after visits from relatives were banned, resulting in the deaths of several people.

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