As part of the Italian government's latest emergency decree, signed on October 18th, Italy has introduced a “rule of six” similar to that in force in the UK and France.
This follows an announcement last week that all public gatherings were banned – both indoors and outdoors.
While they've been advising against 'assembramenti' (gatherings) for months, for the first time the Health Ministry last week put a number on how many people you can host in your own home: six.
Evitiamo le feste private e di ricevere in casa più di 6 persone pic.twitter.com/hjpTIG7M7z
— Palazzo_Chigi (@Palazzo_Chigi) October 16, 2020
While other countries have imposed their own 'rules of six', Italy has chosen to apply its own a bit differently.
Here's what you need to know.
The rule now applies to restaurants
Under the new October 18th emergency decree, which tightens previous rules, Italy now has a “rule of six” for restaurant groups: no more than six people may sit at one table.
It's unclear how the rule will be enforced or whether there will be fines or other sanctions for anyone breaking the rule – either customer or restaurateur.
However the majority of restaurants have so far been strict about sticking to the rules in Italy, as police patrol frequently to check rules are being followed.
At home it's a recommendation, not a law
The decree states: “With regard to private homes, it is strongly recommended to avoid parties, as well as to avoid receiving more than six non-cohabiting people”.
In other words, it's official government advice – but unlike not wearing a face mask in public or failing to observe quarantine, which can earn you a hefty fine, breaking the 'rule of six' is not one of Italy's Covid-19 criminal offences.
But that doesn't mean you shouldn't take it seriously. According to Health Minister Roberto Speranza, citing figures from Italy's Higher Health Institute, some 80 percent of Covid-19 infections are transmitted between close family and friends – the people you feel safe enough around to lower your mask and go in for a hug.
“We can't introduce a binding rule, but the message we must send at all costs is this: do not organise private events with lots of people,” said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
Police won't raid your dinner party
Because it's not banned by law, police officers are unlikely to come knocking if they hear you singing 'Happy Birthday' too loudly or catch you ordering a cake for eight, even if that's what Italians may have been imagining.
Quite enjoying Italy's memes on the new 6-guest limit for house parties pic.twitter.com/DW291lwwku
— Jessica Phelan (@JessicaLPhelan) October 14, 2020
Instead the government is relying on the public's sense of civic duty. “When there are guidelines they should be respected and Italy has shown it can do that, so I think the majority of people will comply,” health minister Speranza said.
While he suggested in a TV interview that people could summon police on their neighbours if they suspected them of throwing house parties, raising an outcry over civil liberties, Prime Minister Conte later assured that wouldn't be happening.
“We won't send the police into private homes,” Conte said, “but we must behave cautiously to manage this phase. We must improve behaviour even in private homes.”
Limiting guests isn't the only thing you should do
The 'rule of six' goes hand in hand with other advice on behaving responsibly in private, notably a new recommendation that people should wear face masks if they're visiting someone else's home or having guests over to theirs.
Previously people were only told to wear masks in public.
The government now advises applying the same rules we're used to following in restaurants to our own home: maintaining a one-metre distance from everyone except the people you live with, and keeping masks on except when seated at a table to eat.
What if you live with more than six people?
The wording of the decree suggests that you can't invite more than six guests, not that there can't be more than six people in total.
It's not unambiguous, though, and for simplicity's sake the advice has been widely described in the Italian media as 'no more than six to dinner'.
If you live with six people or more and are in close contact anyway, it doesn't make much sense to avoid them round the dinner table. (The government hasn't specified an exception for children, so as far as we know 'six' includes adults and kids alike.)
Since it's not a law, ultimately it comes down to personal responsibility. After all, sticking to a Sunday lunch for six instead of seven won't help much if you don't keep your distance, wash your hands and avoid physical contact.
It applies indoors and outdoors
The new decree discourages parties both inside and outdoors, so taking your dining table into the garden isn't a way around it.
You can still celebrate special occasions
There are exceptions, however: if you're having a wedding, baptism, funeral or other ceremony, you are allowed to have a reception afterwards with more than six guests.
The limit in these cases is 30 people total, and social distancing rules apply.