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La dolce vita? Italians embrace their freedom but crowded beaches and nightlife worry officials

Key Points
  • Italians are embracing their freedom from a strict coronavirus lockdown.
  • Many people have been heading to the country's beaches and piazzas to enjoy the lifting of restrictions.
  • Footage broadcast on Italian TV at the weekend showed young Italians partying and drinking in groups prompting some restrictions to be reimposed.
The Italian national aerobatic team, the Frecce Tricolore, flies over the Piazza Duomo of Milan on May 25, 2020 in Milan, Italy. Restaurants, bars, cafes, hairdressers and other shops have reopened, subject to social distancing measures, after more than two months of a nationwide lockdown meant to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Pietro D'Aprano

Italians are embracing their freedom from a strict coronavirus lockdown by heading to the country's beaches and piazzas, but officials are warning that too little thought is being paid to the danger of a second wave of infections.

Footage broadcast on Italian TV at the weekend showed young Italians partying and drinking in groups in both northern and southern Italy. The resumption of Italy's "movida," or nightlife, has prompted the authorities to warn citizens to behave more cautiously.

Regional Affairs Minister Francesco Boccia told La Stampa newspaper Monday that the government will not open up travel between Italian regions, expected as part of its "Phase Two" lifting of lockdown restrictions and due to take place on June 2, if mass social gatherings continue.

"Be careful, if it goes on like this we won't be able to reopen regions," he told the newspaper. "I understand the young people, but we cannot cancel the efforts (made): at the end of the week the government will evaluate the situation based on the number of infections."

"We must not forget that we are still facing Covid-19 and so those who fuel a movida are betraying the sacrifices made by millions of Italians," he warned.

The green light to socialize last weekend was a breath of fresh air for Italians who have endured more than two months of strict lockdown rules, told to stay at home unless they had to go out for essentials such as food and medicine. As of May 18, bars, restaurants and museums were allowed to reopen, as well as shops, hairdressers and beaches.

Beaches were a popular destination for many Italians making the most of the good weather, with some coastal towns, like Castiglione della Pescaia, noted for how busy they were at the weekend. Lorenzo, who works at Bar La Fronte in the Tuscan coastal resort, told CNBC that his bar was busy but that most customers were respecting social distancing rules.

"This last weekend there were a lot of people everywhere, on the beaches, in the parks, in the streets of the center ... and also in the nightlife clubs like ours," he told CNBC Tuesday. "People had respect for (social) distances except in a few cases."

But Lorenzo said he believed it would be "impossible" to maintain social distances during the summer season, "when the country is really full and not only in terms of nightlife, but also on the beach and streets, the seafront etc, which are crowded in summer, like all seaside resorts."

Having witnessed crowds gathered at the weekend, some Italians shared their concerns over the apparent lack of social distancing on Twitter, especially given Italy's experience of the virus that has led to the deaths of almost 33,000 people.

Mayors up in arms

Italy's city mayors are not happy either and have taken to social media to implore locals to abide by the rules, or risk a return of restrictions.

Vincenzo Napoli, the mayor of Salerno, said he'd seen too many crowds and traffic in the southern Italian city at the weekend. "There seems to have been some sort of psychological repression of what has happened so far, just like an emotional release. This is the worst that can happen," he said, according to the Gazetta di Salerno newspaper. "Lowering your guard at this stage means returning to the terrifying action of the virus," he warned.

Meanwhile, crowds heading to mountains around Turin prompted both hopes of a recovery for the local economy, but also concern over the number of people gathering to enjoy the outdoors. The mayor of one local commune, Usseglio, described the scenes of crowds there as "disastrous."

Beppe Sala, the mayor of Milan, the capital city of Lombardy — which became the epicenter of Italy coronavirus outbreak in late February — said on Twitter Monday that "we cannot imagine having a second weekend like the one just ended." 

On Sunday, Sala said on Facebook that he had spoken to other mayors of major cities and, "there is frustration in us because we all agree that with the available law enforcement agencies it is not possible to manage the gatherings and that the call to common sense works only up to a certain point."

Luca Zaia, the governor of the Veneto region, also posted a video on Twitter Sunday under the title "Happy hour" showing Italians socializing interspersed with images of intensive care wards.

Some mayors have closed their main squares, and bars, to discourage mass gatherings, including the mayors of Brescia and Perugia.

Regional Affairs Minister Boccia had said that 60,000 people could be employed to help enforce social distancing and the wearing of masks in public places, but the plan has met with opposition.