People wearing face masks are seen on a street in Milan, Italy, on April 18, 2020. (Photo: Xinhua)
Italy announced plans Saturday to set price limits on face masks and ramp up antibody testing as it nears the end of the world's longest active national lockdown.
The Mediterranean country is awaiting a decision this weekend about which of its coronavirus restrictions will be lifted when the current regime expires on May 3.
This will determine both the pace at which the eurozone's third-largest economy claws its way out of the coronavirus crisis and the freedoms 60 million Italians will enjoy in the summer months.
Prime Minster Giuseppe Conte has reportedly been presented with a cautious proposal that involves a gradual easing of restrictions over four weeks.
Italians will probably be allowed to leave their homes freely for the first time since March 9 by early May.
Parks could reopen and the nation can start working its way out of its most traumatic experience since World War II.
But reports say the vision laid out before Conte does not resemble life as Italians knew it.
Italy's official death toll of 26,384 is still Europe's highest and only second globally to the United States.
"The coronavirus has been weakened but not defeated," emergency response commissioner Domenico Arcuri told reporters.
"Everyone understands this."
- 'Italy is back'-
Media reports say that restaurants will only resume takeout service and almost everything else will stay shut on May 4.
The government might reopen museums on May 18 in a bid to send an "optimistic message to the world that Italy (with prudence and caution) is back," the Corriere della Sera newspaper wrote.
Yet even these incremental steps will be reversed at the first sign of the rate of daily infections rising.
The Italian outbreak has been ebbing for some weeks.
The ISS public health institute said an infected person was now spreading the virus to between 0.2 and 0.7 others nationally -- a range low enough to start a safe lockdown exit.
Italy's "Phase Two" involves mandatory use of face masks in public places and antibody testing nationwide.
"We will set the maximum price at which face masks can be sold," Arcuri said.
The Italian commissioner did not say whether people would be required to wear them outdoors.
The serological tests are designed to help determine how many people have already had the virus and potentially become immune.
The production of accurate antibody tests is only just starting and the World Health Organization reiterated Saturday that "there is currently no evidence" that a person cannot develop COVID-19 twice.
But Milan's northern Lombardy region -- at the Italian outbreak's epicentre since at least February -- began the first wide-scale use of the tests on Thursday.
Arcuri said about 150,000 antibody tests would start to be distributed across Italy's 20 regions on May 4.
He also cautioned that "no test in the world is 100 percent accurate".
The Italian government was aiming for an accuracy rate of "at least 95 percent," Arcuri said.
Conte was also reportedly offered the option of filling airports and train stations with thermal scanners that can flag people who are running fevers.
These would then be tested for the virus as a precaution.
Yet many infectious people without symptoms would still slip through undetected and few other countries have chosen this route.
Italy is also following EU guidelines and unrolling an app designed to alert people if they had come in contact with someone who is known to be positive.
Some doctors caution that not enough Italians have mobile phones to make this type of contact tracing work on a national scale.