May 4 is a date that unites Italy and India in the current COVID-19 scenario. It is the day when both countries courageously decided to strike a fine balance between the need to restore industrial activities and supply chains and the duty to continue protecting their citizens from the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Endeavour in a phase
What in India is commonly known as Lockdown 3.0 has been defined “Phase 2” in Italy. Regardless of how we call it, the stage that both countries entered that Monday reflects the same endeavour: first, we needed to put our economies and societies on hold to contain the virus; now while still working to strengthen our preparedness and our response to this global challenge, we need to be able to look forward and give our citizens and our businesses a positive outlook in the immediate future.
Like India, Italy is also a country whose economy has a solid manufacturing base. That Monday, the new measures adopted by the Italian government allowed 4.5 million people to go back to work: the heart of our economic system started pulsating again. Nearly 50 economic and industrial activities were allowed on a national scale.
In parallel, the government adopted new measures to make sure that the nearly three million people employed in the public sector would be able to develop digital processes and streamlined procedures so as to support the prompt resumption of activities by the private sector. It is something that we are also doing here in India, by developing the “Digital Embassy” project that will allow us to create many tools and processes to virtually interact and support our nationals, our businesses and our Indian counterparts.
The endgame in Italy is to allow our entire workforce (roughly 24 million people) to recommence their activities. This need not come at the price of safety: the relevant Italian institutions have already defined adequate directives for workplaces and public places. These are based on measures that will resonate with the reader: wearing of face covers; thermal scanning; frequent sanitisation; adequate distancing.
About the latter, I avoided the adjective “social” because I believe that it would be more appropriate to talk about physical distancing: sociality will be very much alive, just a little bit different than before.
The resumption of industrial activities happens in a framework where financial support to businesses and citizens has already been launched both at the national and the European Union (EU) level. In terms of national financial resources, the Italian government has already provided guarantees up to €500 billion to make sure that Italian businesses can have access to the necessary liquidity. It has also adopted measures to support families and small and medium enterprises through grants, loans, debt rescheduling and other form of financial support. Furthermore, the Italian government was the first one to sign a protocol with trade unions for health safety at the workplace. The EU is also doing its part and has reached an agreement on three important safety nets for workers, businesses and sovereigns, amounting to a package worth €540 billion. The establishment of a recovery fund has also been agreed upon.
The lockdown adopted by the Italian government is paying out. The numbers related to COVID-19 in Italy still deserve our utmost attention and we will not lower our guard until this threat to public health is removed. And, of course, in case of a resurgence of the contagion, we stand ready to introduce restrictive measures again to counter it effectively.
Points of convergence
Maybe it is early to draw any lesson from this crisis, but it is already possible to say that the future that we will shape in the post-COVID-19 scenario will have very much to do with our ability to bring public goods and global commons at the centre of the political narrative and agenda. In this mindset, Italy and India will have an extraordinary chance to closely cooperate in the next months, since they will be holding the consecutive Presidencies (Italy in 2021 and India in 2022) of the G20, one of the world’s main fora for global governance. This will prove a unique opportunity to shape the international discourse around priorities that both countries hold dear: from taking advantage of our economic complementarity to strengthening our partnership based on shared values, on our thriving creating industries, scientific knowledge and technological prowess; from the development of a rules-based international system to the promotion of just trade, inclusive growth and the realisation of the 2030 Agenda. In this endeavour we will support an effective multilateral system, which would be the best political accelerator to win our battle against the novel coronavirus and to promote a sustainable, equitable and durable recovery. In this process we will not lose sight of the fight against climate change, since Italy will co-host the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties, COP26, in 2021, together with the United Kingdom, and India is one of the world’s major responsible stakeholders.
In a nutshell, at both bilateral and multilateral levels, our dialogue will be based on the main tenets of innovation and sustainability. Innovation because this crisis has transformed the urge to develop new ideas, methods, processes and devices into the “new normal”; sustainability because, paraphrasing a popular saying: “we did not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrowed it from our children”.
Vincenzo de Luca is the Ambassador of Italy to India