NAPLES, ITALY - 11 MAY 2020: Bruno De Crescenzo, owner of three bars in the city’s Spanish Quarters, poses for a portrait at the counter of his first bar - Spuzzulè Winebar - in Naples, Italy, on May 11th 2020.
When he threw a New Year’s Eve party to inaugurate his third bar in this city’s Spanish Quarters, he had reason to be optimistic: The once-rough neighbourhood was attracting foreign tourists and well-to-do Neapolitans willing to spend €5 on a glass of wine. That ended abruptly when Italy went into lockdown in March. And Mr. De Crescenzo isn’t sure it’s ever going to come back, even once the pandemic is over. “The real problem isn’t what we are facing right now,” says Mr. De Crescenzo, who applied for the €600 emergency payment from the government but hasn’t received it yet. “The real problem is what we’ll face tomorrow.” He recently had a taste of tomorrow could bring when he opened one of his bars for takeaway service earlier this month. Nobody came, and he shut down again. Even once bars and restaurants will be allowed to reopen properly – likely over the next few days – social distancing rules means he won’t be able to fit more than a handful of customers indoors at any one time.
The coronavirus pandemic has precipitated one of the worst economic downturns in generations across the world. But few major economies are likely to suffer as much as Italy’s, or take longer to recover.
The health emergency has already left hundreds of thousands of Italians unable to pay for their own food for the first time. Experts warn that the poverty crisis is only just beginning, and that many of those who abruptly plunged into poverty may never be able to lift themselves out of it – even once the pandemic is over. Italy, more than its Western European neighbors, is ill-prepared to deal with a crisis of this magnitude. Its big problem is that its economy never really recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, leaving families poorer an