‘Joyful contagion machines’? Italy’s clubbers spark controversy

"Put your masks on!" repeats the DJ, shouting vainly into his microphone, but the dancers below, dripping in sweat, don't seem to care.

'Joyful contagion machines'? Italy's clubbers spark controversy
People dance at a beach club in Ostia on August 14th. Photo: AFP

*UPDATE* The Italian government has now ordered all discos to close until September 7th. Full details here.

At the “Kiki” nightclub in Ostia, a popular seaside resort on the outskirts of Rome, the coronavirus threat seems both distant and yet very present.

During 50's night at this open-air disco on Ostia's beachfront, the rules are well known: a mask is mandatory, and dancing must be done at least one metre from a partner.

“Who cares about all that,” laughed one partygoer, Claudio, his belly jutting forward and shirt wide open. With his mask in his pocket, he boogies alone, not to respect social distancing but because his friends are chatting elsewhere.

READ ALSO: What you should know if you're visiting Italy this summer

Around him, the approximately 200 to 300 party-goers dance to the blaring electro music, many without masks as they flirt, laugh and drink gin and tonics in the heat.

It takes the weary insistence of the staff, the calls of the DJ and a rumour of a possible police raid to get the crowd to comply begrudgingly and cover their faces.

While the threat of a second wave of coronavirus looms nearer in several European countries, such as Spain, Italy is trying to stem new infections in the middle of “Ferragosto”, the sacrosanct holiday weekend of August 15th.

Bonfires on the beach and a traditional midnight jump into the sea have been banned this year as the government and regional authorities cotinue to argue over the thorny issue of discos.

READ ALSO: Where are Italy's new coronavirus clusters?

The topic is politically sensitive, as authorities don't want to appear to be punishing Italians during well-deserved summer holidays after a gruelling lockdown that was largely respected by most.

Inside-only nightclubs are still prohibited from operating, but regions have the discretion to open or shut open-air discos.

Calabria, for one, has ordered the closure of all dance venues, while Sardinia has kept them open. Some, like Veneto to the north, have ordered reduced occupancy.

The sector employs nearly 50,000 people in 3,000 nightclubs around the country, according to the nightclub operators' union (SILB).

A craft beer bar in Rome where masks are being worn in May 2020. Photo: AFP

Despite any hit to the economy in keeping discos closed, health authorities acknowledge they represent a serious risk. A meeting on the subject between national and regional government representatives is scheduled for Sunday, according to Italian news wire AGI.

Wild and free?

Images of crowds of young holiday-goers dancing and drinking at night have been plastered on the front pages of Italian newspapers.

“The contagion is on the rise but we're dancing,” proclaimed the Corriere Della Sera, which slammed Sardinia's clubs as being “joyful contagion machines”.

At “Manila Beach” in Fregene, on the coast outside Rome, party organiser Gianluca Skiki said his venue, which normally welcomes up to 2,000 customers on its beach, has to make do with 250.

Despite some semblances of a nightclub – a DJ, sequined miniskirts and high heels worn by some – the experience appears odd. Couples sit at tables with distance between them to eat, and are instructed to dance only in front of their tables.

“If the police come, everyone has to be at their table,” Skiki explained.

“There's no real nightclub here any more, it's about the only thing we're allowed to organise.”

He acknowledged the experience falls short of the carefree, wild parties of the past.

“I hope it will be the last of its kind…”

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”