As Italy begins to ease out of a seven-week coronavirus lockdown period with utmost caution, a key action will be awakening the country’s multitude of factories and production plants from an extended, economical painful slumber without sparking new infections.
As originally reported by The Guardian, May 4—one day after Europe’s longest-running lockdown is officially lifted—will be the big day when factories and construction sites are permitted to slowly swing back into action with, of course, the requisite safeguards in place. Factories that produce goods for export, which includes many if not most major design manufacturers, have already been giving the green light, as have public construction projects. Museums, galleries, libraries, and retailers will follow shortly thereafter in mid-May, while bars and restaurants will be allowed to reopen their doors beyond take-out and delivery in early June along with parks and public gardens. Most gatherings exceeding 15 people, however, will remain verboten (including funerals) and travel between different Italian regions will stay heavily restricted. Face masks and social distancing will remain de rigueur.
“We expect a very complex challenge,” said Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte earlier this week addressing “phase two” of the crisis. “We will live with the virus and we will have to adopt every precaution possible.”
“The reopening is allowed on condition that all companies involved strictly respect security protocols in the workplace,” Conte added.
While something resembling “normal” is still a long way off for Europe’s third-largest economy, the reopening of Italy’s factories, particularly manufacturing facilities within the country’s storied furniture and home design sector, is welcome news. For weeks, industry leaders have been urging the government to allow production to resume, even if at a modified pace, warning of the dire economic—and cultural—consequences of allowing a production shut-down to continue for much longer. As AN reported last week, nine design industry leaders banded together to publish a so-called Design Manifesto that outlined their collective concerns and objectives moving forward. Among other things, the manifesto’s signatories stressed the advantage that a drawn-out pause on production would give to competitive European markets in the design manufacturing space, namely Germany and Scandinavian countries, and the inherently pandemic-safe nature of Italy’s furniture production facilities, which would become even safer after production resumed.
With that much-anticipated moment—the return of production activities—now close on the horizon or already here, some venerable Italian manufacturers—B&B Italia, Moroso, and Boffi along them—are formally going public with statements announcing their triumphant—but vigilant—return.
As Gilberto Negrini, CEO of Lombardy-based B&B Italia, detailed in an April 27 news release:
After the operational resumption of shipments, which has restarted supplies and processed orders, production will therefore be finally active from tomorrow. Of course, all the safety protocols have been put in place: sanitizing procedures for the rooms, supply of disinfectants at each location and spacing will ensure our employees a safe return starting from the entrance procedures where, after taking the temperature through thermo-scanner, masks and gloves will be supplied daily.
Messaging from Italy’s fabled design heavyweights during the crisis has been grounded in pragmatism yet fully optimistic about navigating the potentially difficult road ahead. Negrini’s announcement was no different.
“A sign that makes us look to the future with more hope and positivity, confident that the quality of Made in Italy, our ability to innovate, to merge industry and manual skills, to find beauty in form, combined with the extraordinary work of our men and women, who are the real strength of our companies and our brands, will be able to cope with this enormous global crisis,” he wrote. “The unique history of B&B Italia, and what it has been able to create since 1966 to bring Italian design into the world, speaks for us, and together we will make it.”
Per Reuters, the number of fatalities resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy, an early and severe hotspot, remains the highest in Europe with over 26,000 lives lost. In recent days, however, the number of new cases reported, and the number of Italian residents being admitted to intensive care facilities, has fallen. This past Sunday, the country reported it’s third consecutive daily drop in reported fatalities with 260 deaths—a horrific number but also the lowest since mid-March.