Many Italian companies and academics are pressing the government to reopen factories to prevent an economic catastrophe, as the world watches how the first Western country to impose a lockdown can extricate itself from the unprecedented measures.

The same debate is being held around the globe: How long and stringently can bans to combat the coronavirus pandemic be held in place before irreversible damage is wrought, with businesses sunk and swaths of the population jobless?

Italy faces among the most pressing dilemmas, not only because its lockdown has been in place longer than most nations and it has the world's highest death toll, but because the novel coronavirus has hit hardest in the northern industrial heartlands that generate a third of its economic output.