By Alex Fraser
MILAN (Reuters) - Italians were allowed to travel to other regions of the country on Wednesday for the first time in nearly three months, in a further relaxation of lockdown restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
Travellers boarding trains in Milan, capital of Lombardy in northern Italy, were excited at the prospect of finally being able to visit family and friends elsewhere in the country.
"I work here in Milan and up until now I couldn't move between regions," said Anna Falcone, who was getting ready to board a train to Calabria, southwest Italy, to see her parents.
"But now, with the possibility of smart working, I can return home and go and meet my parents and hug them again after three months of not seeing them," she said. "I am happy and I can't wait to see them."
Lombardy remains one of the regions worst affected by the pandemic in the whole world and it accounts for about half of Italy's more than 33,500 deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.
The now-obligatory protective masks and groups of security staff checking temperatures are constant reminders that the epidemic has still not been tamed.
Social distancing rules remain in force and shops routinely limit entries. There are periodic public outcries over groups of people gathering outside bars or in parks.
The governors of some regions in southern Italy, much less affected by the pandemic, are concerned that the relaxation of travel restrictions could lead to travellers from northern cities such as Milan inadvertently spreading the virus.
And with Italy's economy expected to shrink by about 9% this year and thousands of companies facing an uncertain future, few Italians are under any illusion that life will return to normal anytime soon.
"The lockdown has brought a really harsh economic reality and in the next few months we will really see its impact," said Alessandro Peruzzo, who was preparing to visit his family in the northeastern town of Treviso.
(Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Gareth Jones)