VENICE — Two days ago, a leading Italian industrialist circulated a photoshopped image of Da Vinci's Last Supper to his contacts via WhatsApp. All that was left of the iconic painting was the laid table — no trace of the apostles, let alone Christ. And the caption? "We're exaggerating here in Milan."

Every Italian businessperson with a budget to balance, from the region of Lombardy to Veneto, from major corporations to the local bar, feels the same way.

"We are in the presence of an authentic panic effect, generated by political communication and by ordinances perceived as excessive," says Agostino Bonomo, president of Confartigianato Veneto, the local branch of a national small business and craftsmen's association.

"I hope the decrees won't be upheld, there are thousands upon thousands of small businesses that live off their daily receipts to pay suppliers, employees, bills and mortgages," he adds. "There is a real danger of an extremely serious crisis, never before seen, caused by the collapse of internal consumption and exports. Paralysis of this country's economic life."

Antonio Santocono touches on the same themes in his analysis of the effects of the coronavirus ordinances. His experience, both as an entrepreneur (he is the founder of IT company Corvallis, which in 2018 boasted 160 million euros in revenue) and as the president of the Chamber of Commerce of the northern city of Padua, gives him a razor-sharp judgment on the issue.

"We are facing a very dramatic short-circuiting of the economy," Santocono says, "where a combination of the widespread panic among the people, which is understandable, and the folly of political measures that are completely out of proportion, can bring about an unprecedented crisis. We seem to be convinced that safeguarding the health of the populace can be achieved without destroying the economic fabric."

But what concrete effects can he see on his daily business activity? "What expression can I use, if not 'folly', when the client companies of my consulting firm call to ask us not to send any technicians from Veneto?"

Empty tables in a Milan restaurant Xinhua/ZUMA Wire/ZUMA

Vincenzo Marinese, president of regional entrepreneurial association Confindustria Venezio e Rovigo, recounts a similar anecdote this week: a Croatian supplier was scheduled to deliver a load of quicklime to Marghera, near Venice, where one of Marinese's companies is headquartered, but refused to fill the order. The reason? If he did, he would be barred from re-entering Croatia upon return.

"We are dealing with a crazed communication strategy that risks fueling an unjustified panic and cost us tens of billions in damages," Marinese insists. "We need to be aware of the fact that exports are going to resume slowly, and that it will take a long time for the situation to return to normalcy."

Not to mention unbridled rage against whoever talks of "smart working" as though it were a cure-all: does it seem possible to keep the lathe running from your living room? They ask for help, information, and push for their interest groups to pound their fists on the desks of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Veneto President Luca Zaia — politicians joined together for the first time in this collective "thumbs down."

And in its way, the request for permission to enact layoffs put forward by eyewear giants in the Belluno province of Veneto — Safilo, De Rigo, Marcolin — also reflects the Covid-19 wave.

The anger is mounting in factories and artisanal shops just as it is among baristas, restaurateurs, tobacconists, and shopkeepers.

We're risking catastrophe.

Patrizio Bertin, president of the representative group Confcommercio Veneto, attests to "enormous worry. We're risking catastrophe. The political communication has generated a sort of terroristic alarm. This is how the nation dies. I observe an anomalous disproportion between the risk of coronavirus and the certainty of the pandemic on the economy."

But what has happened in Bertin's businesses these past few days? "Yesterday we didn't even make enough money to cover the electricity for the day."

Indeed, tourism is the sector most profoundly rocked by the Covid-19 ordinances. "Tourism is founded upon trust. We have terrorized our clientele and blown up our reputation before the world's eyes," he concludes.

Marco Michelli, hotelier in the Venetian seaside resort of Bibione and national vice president of the Confturismo tourism industry association, signals that "a burst of cancellations on summer reservations are flooding in from Germany and Northern Europe, and we can already forget about Easter."

The city is now offering rooms at 30 to 40 euros per night and still reporting a 40% decline in reservations.

"We have implemented draconian measures and performed thousands upon thousands of tests — it's no wonder fewer cases are coming out of France and Germany, they're not looking for them!" exclaims Michelli. "We have to hope the decree won't be prolonged because it would be the kiss of death to the first touristic destination in Italy."

It's with a virtually unified voice that the plea rings out: Don't renew the ordinances!


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