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Sylvia Poggioli

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Over the centuries, Europe has suffered through plagues, pestilence and the Black Death.

When Italy became the first Western country to be hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the city of Florence discovered that one of its unique architectural quirks was perfect for coronavirus-era social distancing.

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Vatican officials have always insisted Pope Pius XII did everything possible to save Jewish lives during World War II. But many scholars accuse him of complicit silence while some 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

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The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare many of the problems of societies around the world. In Italy, the first Western country hit by COVID-19, it revealed how much the country relies on its migrant work force. Many undocumented migrants work on farms, as field hands and harvesting crops — jobs that Italians don't want. With the pandemic, they were suddenly recognized as essential.

One African-Italian became the spokesman for hundreds of thousands of migrants — those who couldn't stay home, who were risking their health to go out to work.

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In Italy, the coronavirus pandemic is revealing just how much that country relies on its migrant workforce. As NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports, many undocumented migrants were suddenly recognized as essential workers.

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Italy's prime minister, health and interior ministers faced hours of questioning in Rome Friday as prosecutors opened an investigation into possible government mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis.

Investigators want to know why the towns of Alzano Lombardo and Nembro in the northern industrial region of Lombardy were not isolated and declared "red zones" as soon as the first cases were identified. As of now, no one has been charged.

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Italy is coming out from under one of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world. But Italians are opening their doors onto a changed landscape, one of poverty and spiraling debt. Here's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli.

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Today in Italy, the lockdown is letting up after eight weeks of restrictions. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports that Italians are emerging from their homes cautiously, discovering a new and unfamiliar world.

(SOUNDBITE OF HUMMING)

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Tomorrow, Italy begins lifting the lockdown it imposed two months ago to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Despite some of the strictest measures in Europe, Italy's death toll continued to climb. Now it's more than 28,000, second only to the United States.

The novel coronavirus is reviving one of Italy's fiercest debate topics — immigration.

The Italian government is considering giving work permits to thousands of undocumented immigrants in the country, as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens crop harvests.

Seasonal farmworkers usually go to Italy each year from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria, but recent lockdowns have kept them home. That's creating a critical shortage of labor for picking fruits and vegetables needed for food and exports.

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In Italy, where the coronavirus has shuttered more than 2 million businesses and left 1 in every 2 workers without income, some Italians are putting a new twist on an old custom to help the needy and restart the economy.

In Rome, the Piazza San Giovanni della Malva used to echo with the noise of crowded cafes and restaurants. Now, the only business open is a grocery shop, Er Cimotto.

It's so small that social distancing forces customers to order through the window.

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