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Reuters/Alex Fraser
Stores are emptying in Milan.
ONE METER APART

Stores in Milan are finding creative ways to enforce Italy’s strict coronavirus rules

Milan
Luiz Romero
By Luiz Romero

Reporter

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In Milan’s popular Porta Venezia neighborhood, while stores on the busiest shopping street remain open, many small neighborhood shops are closed. The ones that decided to open on Tuesday (March 10) were servicing fewer customers, and were having to find creative ways to implement the containment measures imposed by the government.

Italy has more than 10,100 cases of coronavirus—compared to 1,400 in France and 1,200 in Spain—and 631 deaths. Its GDP had already contracted in the fourth quarter, and is expected to contract again now, placing the country in a recession.

Stores need to limit the number of people inside. In Milan, many have signs indicating the maximum allowed—only two at a small pharmacy, but 10 at an organic supermarket, where the door is locked after enough customers have gone in. The rest form long lines outside, with people standing far away from each other to avoid contagion. One bakery used token dispensers to control access.

Some businesses already adapted the official health warnings to their own identities, using personalized colors and fonts. One shop used empty orange boxes of Aperol to make its sign more on-brand.

Stores must also guarantee that customers stay one meter apart, risking having their licenses suspended if they fail to enforce the rule. One of Muji’s four locations in Milan is using white tape on the floor to help customers respect the minimum distance while queuing in front of its cash desk. A coffee shop used a stronger yellow and black tape to draw large squares in front of its cash desk, with a sign at the center of the square showing where customers are supposed to stand.

At the Apple store, a worker somehow managed to inspect an iPhone held by a customer while still respecting the one-meter distance. A hand gel dispenser has been placed near the entrance.

As the outbreak started to spread across the country last month, and customers started to disappear, staff started using the newly-gained free time to put their stores in order. They packed shelves, organized stocks, and updated displays. But the outbreak didn’t subside, and since this weekend, stricter containment measures meant that the number of customers dropped from a handful to none. Both the Muji and Apple stores on Tuesday had more staff than customers.

But there is only so much stock organizing a store needs. Although pretty much all upscale shops in Milan’s fashion district were open, including Prada, Moncler, and Celine, they were also completely empty. With little to do, staff stand in the middle of empty stores, wearing face masks and protective gloves, staring outside through the windows, waiting for someone to come in.

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