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Protesters clash with police in Florence over anti-Covid measures

Skirmishes between police and protestors in Florence and other Italian cities are due to "violent fringe elements" seeking to exploit the coronavirus emergency, the country's interior minister said on Saturday.

Protesters clash with police in Florence over anti-Covid measures
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced new measures on Sunday. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Skirmishes between police and protestors in Florence and other Italian cities are due to “violent fringe elements” seeking to exploit the coronavirus emergency, the country's interior minister said on Saturday.

Protestors have taken to the streets in the past week in cities across Italy, including Rome, Naples and Turin, to criticise a new series of restrictions to stop an alarming rise in coronavirus cases, even as the government considers more stringent measures.

An unauthorised protest late Friday in the Renaissance city of Florence turned violent after police sought to prohibit about 200 people gathered in the city centre from entering the Piazza della Signoria, newspapers reported.

READ ALSO: What are the coronavirus rules in Italy right now?

Clashes broke out between police in riot gear and protesters, some of whom hurled Molotov cocktails, bottles and rocks, overturning trash bins and breaking security cameras.

“Unfortunately there are violent fringe elements trying to infiltrate the plazas in order to exploit the social and economic discomfort of this difficult moment,” Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese told Il Foglio newspaper.

 

Lamorgese said the protestors included young people with criminal records, football hooligans and extreme-right activists who “find an opportunity to exploit legitimate demonstrations.” 

Florence Mayor Dario Nardella wrote on Facebook the city had undergone a “surreal, terrible and painful night.”

“This is not how you protest your grievances, this is not how you voice your suffering,” Nardella wrote.

“Those who scar Florence must pay for what they have done.”

In Bologna some 80 kilometres (50 miles) away, a few hundred people also protested on Friday evening, most of them young men, including football hooligans and some giving the fascist salute, La Repubblica daily reported.

Second lockdown?

The protests come as Italy reported over 31,084 new cases of the virus on Friday, breaking a daily record.

Italy's government is eyeing a lockdown of the country's major cities, including Milan, Rome and Naples, to try to slow the alarming rise in infections, news media reported.

“We are meeting with experts and considering whether to intervene again,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told Il Foglio.

The first European country to be hit hard by the pandemic in March, Italy underwent a more than two-month quarantine that devastated its already struggling economy.

READ ALSO: Can Italy really avoid a second lockdown?

On Sunday, Italy introduced new nationwide coronavirus restrictions, including the closure of all cinemas, theatres, gyms and swimming pools and the closing of restaurants and bars at 6:00 pm (1700 GMT).

Conte has said he wants to give the latest measures two weeks to take effect before deciding whether a fuller lockdown is needed, as has been ordered in neighbouring France, but the speed with which the virus is spreading may force his hand earlier.

 

The government has announced that five billion euros ($5.9 billion dollars) will be issued to the worst hit professions, including restaurants, taxi drivers and live entertainment venues.

The new restrictions spurred a wave of demonstrations in Rome, Milan, Naples and Turin on Monday and Tuesday, marked by violence and vandalism, with riot police firing teargas at groups of young people hurling bottles and rocks.

Earlier on Saturday, the president of the southern Campania region signed a new decree to suspend schools until November 14.

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COVID-19

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].”

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