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Nearly 250 bookshops in Italy have questioned the decision by the country’s premier Giuseppe Conte to allow bookshops, and other small stores like stationery shops and children’s clothes shop, to reopen.  Ncoletta Maldini, at Libreria Trame, a bookstore in Bologna, said: “I will be very happy to reopen as soon as we can do so safely. At some point we will need to restart, but until then we need to move with caution and respect.”

Maldini is among 247 bookshop owners across the country who have signed a petition gathered by LED, an online platform for booksellers and publishers, questioning the wisdom of the government’s decision.  In an open letter to the premier, the group wrote: “As booksellers, we are happy with this sudden attention on our work … but we have no intention of exposing ourselves for the sole purpose of faking a ‘cultural recovery of souls’, which you can only really have when everyone’s safety is assured.”

The group expresses concern over the safety of staff in places which are obviously so public.  ‘Have there been precise indications for the safety of our work, such as the adoption of specific devices?’, it asks.  ‘The work of the bookseller [requires] verbal communication face to face, a practice which, if not precisely regulated, involves obvious risks of health safety. It is also a habit of those who attend bookshops to take, touch, manipulate a large amount of the books on our shelves. Has there been a procedure for the sanitation of books and environments? Not to mention the inevitable resumption of the activity of all workers (couriers, logistics, promoters etc. ) involved in the operation of the chain and whose health must be protected like that of anyone else.”

Rimedia Deffenu at Libreria Ghibellina, a bookstore in Pisa, Tuscany, also pointed out the contradiction in the advice.  “If you’re telling people to stay at home, who do we open to?  Deaths are still too high, it’s too early to reopen.”

Ricardo Franco Levi, president of the Italian Publishers Association, issued a statement to say re-opening bookshops marked “a first step” in a return to normality for the world of books.

However, he is asking the Italian government for help, saying it must “intervene to support the entire supply chain with emergency tools…, because we cannot afford a country without theaters and cinemas, but also without bookstores, publishers, promoters, book distributors,  translators…The book supply chain is in danger of being disfigured and severely downsized.”