With the news that Italy would reopen parks and remove limits on outdoor exercise from May 4th, many assumed that 'Phase Two' of the country's lockdown would mark the return of the passeggiata – the sociable daily stroll so beloved of Italians.
But according to the government's latest advice, leisurely walks are not allowed despite the loosening of restrictions.
“You may leave your home only to go to work, for health reasons, out of necessity […], or to do sport or physical activity outdoors. Therefore, walks are allowed only if strictly necessary for a trip justified by one of the reasons just indicated,” state the government's official FAQs on the new rules.
For example, the advice says, you can take a walk in order to go to the supermarket, buy a newspaper, go to the pharmacy or shop at any retailers currently allowed to open, including book shops, garden centres and children's clothing stores.
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
Under the new rules, you're also allowed to travel locally to visit congiunti – relatives – who are defined as spouses, partners, parents, children, in-laws, siblings, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins, cousins' children and “people linked by a stable bond of affection”, but not friends.
And any outing for the purpose of exercise is permitted, the government states. Parents are also allowed to take their children out for exercise or to the park.
Until at least May 17th, police can stop anyone out and about and ask them to give their reasons for leaving the house in the form of a signed declaration. Giving false information on this form is a punishable offence, liable to earn you a fine of up to €3,000.
Police patrolling a park in Milan on May 4th. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
Government sources have reportedly indicated that police will be less vigilant about checking people's paperwork from now on, however, with patrols expected to focus on breaking up groups.
In residential parts of central Rome on Monday afternoon, The Local saw few police on the streets and no checks on pedestrians. But the rules can vary significantly across Italy and will be policed more strictly in some areas than others, even within the same town. Check your local comune's website to find out which rules apply where you are.
Of course, if you tell police you're on foot in order to go to the shops or that a walk is necessary for your physical or mental health, it is difficult for them to prove otherwise.
It comes down to individual responsibility, which authorities say is the watchword as Italy moves away from forcing its citizens to stay home and trusts them to behave appropriately instead.
In other words, if you feel like you need some fresh air – and if walks aren't specifically forbidden in your comune – you probably don't need to worry about being penalized for it. You could describe it as a “situation of necessity: physical activity for health reasons” (“situazione di necessità: attività motoria per motivi di salute”) on your self-declaration form, or combine it with a trip to the shops.
But remember that Italy's lockdown and the epidemic that prompted it are far from over, and behave responsibly. Keep at least a metre's distance from others, wear a face mask when required, and – crucially, for those accustomed to catching up with friends and neighbours on a passeggiata – take your walk alone (unless accompanying kids, people who need assistance, or other members of your household or family).
Failure to do so could result in the rate of contagion starting to rise again, in which case the government has warned that it will consider reimposing its toughest restrictions.