‘I’m feeding the pigeons’: The excuses given in Italy for flouting lockdown rules

From shopping for wine to trying to win back an ex, people in Italy have been caught breaking quarantine for some pretty dubious reasons, as Rebecca Ann Hughes reports.

'I’m feeding the pigeons': The excuses given in Italy for flouting lockdown rules
A police officer tells a dog walker to leave the beach in Ostia. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Italian authorities announced on Monday that some 90,000 citizens had been charged with disobeying lockdown regulations, and police are checking more than 200,000 people a day. 

Nationwide quarantine measures announced on March 9th, and repeatedly tightened since, mean people in Italy are only permitted to leave the house to buy essentials, for health reasons, or to go to work. As of last weekend, there are restrictions on all travel between municipalities unless for “urgent, verifiable work situations”, and emergencies or health reasons. 

Measures vary between regions and some have far stricter rules in place. In the worst-hit region of Lombardy, residents are no longer allowed to exercise outside, and dog walking is only permitted within 200 metres of people’s houses. 

READ ALSO: Why coronavirus quarantine rules aren't always the same around Italy

Upon leaving the house, everyone must complete a self-declaration form providing a legitimate reason for travel. Many improbable justifications written on self declaration forms and excuses given to patrolling police have resulted in fines, which can now be up to €3,000.

Italian authorities and the police have shared some of the excuses, perhaps in the hope of deterring other potential lockdown dodgers. 

Police checking pedestrians' papers in central Rome. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

In Rome, two men had written on the form that they were going shopping. On being stopped by the police, it transpired that they were actually selling drugs. In the same area, two women had stated they were visiting an aunt who was “elderly and sick.” A little digging revealed the aunt was actually a healthy 40-year-old. 

Coronavirus quarantine has been interrupting love stories across the country, including one man who left the house in order to win back an ex who had recently broken off their relationship.

On his self-declaration form, the man had written one word to justify his movements: “love.”

Food plays a key role in Italian society, so it’s no surprise that it has featured in some of the excuses. In the province of Bologna, two motorcyclists were caught driving from one town to another, supposedly to buy “fresh eggs” from a farmer. In the Padua area, a man was stopped while trying to enter a red zone, and police found he was under the impression that buying wine was a necessity. 

Animals have frequently been employed as excuses to leave the house. The mayor of Fossano, in Piedmont, has described seeing cats taken for walks on a lead, while a young man near Rome reportedly stated he was “feeding the pigeons.” 

Among the most common excuses, however, is the “incontinent” dog who, despite seemingly exhausted, is in desperate need of his fifth walk of day. 

As Italians near the end of their third week of national lockdown, the strain of staying cooped up at home is beginning to show. However, as the numbers of positive cases and deaths in the country are still rising, authorities are determined to keep the quarantine restrictions enforced. The army has been deployed to patrol in some areas, and police have been carrying out rigorous checks in the streets. 

Italian mayors have become an internet sensation after their furious outbursts at those flouting lockdown regulations were compiled into a video. One mayor is recorded saying, “I’m hearing news that some people would like to throw graduation parties. We’ll send the police over with flamethrowers.”

The mayor of Messina, on the island of Sicily, is meanwhile reported to be trialing the use of drones to ensure citizens abide by lockdown rules. The drone will apparently broadcast the mayor’s voice telling loiterers to go home. 

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on March 19th that the lockdown period “will be extended” beyond the previous deadline of April 3rd, however exact details on the length of the extension have not yet been provided. 

Rebecca Ann Hughes is a freelance journalist living in Venice. She is the author behind the blog La Brutta Figura, and she has also written for Culture Trip, Prospect Magazine, and International Times. Follow her on Twitter.

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Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”