The sun is shining and it feels like summer. For many Italians, that means one thing — Aperol spritzes at a terrace cafe with friends.
But just days after most coronavirus lockdown restrictions were lifted, authorities are saying not so fast.
From Palermo to Turin, images of partygoers gathering in piazzas and outside bars have caused panic among regional leaders and mayors.
They worry that crowds of mostly young people celebrating their freedom from quarantine may bring about another rise in infections of a disease that has already killed more than 32,000.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who took a tough line at the start of the crisis by putting his country of 60 million people under lockdown in early March, sounded like a nagging parent on Thursday as he spoke to parliament.
“It’s not the time for parties, nightlife or gatherings,” Conte said. “During this phase, more than ever it’s fundamental to respect security distances and wear masks, where necessary.”
– ‘Moment of freedom’ –
In the northern city of Padua, photos of dozens of young people packed together without masks outside a bar raised the ire of regional president Luca Zaia.
“In 10 days, I’ll see the infection rates. If they rise, we’ll close bars, restaurants, beaches and we’ll lock ourselves back up again,” he warned. “No one wants to ban spritzes but I’m asking that we avoid gatherings and we wear masks until June 2.”
Zaia said his Veneto region planned to make a short film showing “what it means to go for a spritz without a mask”.
Similar scenes with hundreds of young people have been seen in Palermo in Sicily, in Turin in the northwest and Bari in the south, among other cities.
In Rome, a bar owner in the popular nightlife zone of Trastevere, Alessandro Pulcinelli, told AFP that young people out at night have been lingering until about 1:00 am.
“They think they’ve done everything they needed to and now it’s the moment of freedom,” said Pulcinelli. “They’ve got masks, but they don’t wear them. It’s hard to drink and talk with them.”
On the eve of the reopening of restaurants and bars, the mayor of Bergamo, an epicentre of the virus in the northern region of Lombardy, said he had already seen “so many people who are not careful enough” during a walk through the city.
“Are hundreds of deaths in our city not enough? Do we want to find ourselves in trouble once again in a month?” Mayor Giorgio Gori wrote Sunday on his Facebook page.
In Lombardy, masks in public are mandatory.
– ‘Defying death’ –
In order to encourage more outside seating – because the virus can spread more readily in enclosed spaces – Italy has eliminated a tax paid by cafes and restaurants for tables on the street.
“In exchange, we ask them for a little additional effort to avoid gatherings and possible contagions,” Bergamo’s Gori said.
Crowded street parties represent “a real withdrawal from reality”, psychoanalyst Caterina Tabasso told the Repubblica newspaper.
“Young people often defy death and these crowded aperitifs can be an example of a sense of omnipotence.”
Italy’s police, who until now have been charged with keeping people inside their homes, are now expected to perform more frequent patrols of popular nightlife areas.
Fines can range from 400 euros to 3,000 euros ($438 to $3,288).
Padua Police Commissioner Isabella Fusiello told the Stampa newspaper on Thursday that it was not just for the police to keep things under control.
“Those who run public establishments also have responsibilities,” Fusiello said, saying that bar owners risked having their licences revoked.
Rome bar owner Pulcinelli said his biggest fear was fines, but that he didn’t have any way to make people respect social distancing.
“Tonight, all the bars in Trastevere will be open,” Pulcinelli said, adding it would be at its peak.
“I think the police presence will be impressive.”
Antonio Decaro, the mayor of Bari, suggested that cafe and bar owners deliver a mask with every cocktail.
“It’s unreal to think that law enforcement can control every citizen,” Decaro said.