Schools in Italy will reopen on Monday after six months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, in a key test for the fragile ruling coalition led by premier Giuseppe Conte ahead of regional elections later this month.
In a brief televised message to students, teachers and parents on Sunday, Conte tried to address concerns over a possible jump in coronavirus infections with the restart of school activities, as divisions persist among regions over safety measures put in place by the government.
“There will be difficulties and hardship, especially in the beginning,” Conte said, praising students, families and teachers for their “extraordinary” efforts since the March closure, while pledging to be on their side in the coming months.
“Italian schools suffer from long-time structural weaknesses, which have been aggravated by the pandemic,” he stressed.
Regional governors and school managers have loudly complained for delays in the distribution of millions of masks and new desks – needed to comply with the anti-virus rules -- openly criticizing the government’s decision to reopen all schools in mid-September.
Some schools are still struggling to find personnel and adequate classrooms to avoid the risks of a new virus outbreak, as infections have been constantly rising over the past month.
Around 13,000 teachers and staff in schools have tested positive for the virus, just days before the schools’ reopening. People tested represent about half of the country's 970,000 school staff.
On Saturday, Italy registered another 1,501 coronavirus cases, with patients requiring intensive care growing slightly across the country. According to Health Ministry data, another six people died in the past 24 hours, bringing Italy’s official death toll to 35,603.
New infections have been steadily growing over the past six weeks, with experts linking the rise to Italians’ coming back from vacations.
A new outbreak linked to the school reopening would deal a possibly fatal blow to the government’s stability, which also faces its first electoral test after the pandemic in regional elections to be held on Sept. 20-21.
According to the latest polls, the right-wing alliance headed by the League of Matteo Salvini could score a sound win in at least four out of seven regions, opening new cracks within the fractious ruling coalition and boosting the opposition’s call for early elections.