‘No strolling’ in Venice as Italian regions tighten local Covid-19 rules

Three northern Italian regions plan to forbid strolls in crowded city centres, including Venice, Bologna and Trieste, as they take stricter new measures against the spread of Covid-19.

'No strolling' in Venice as Italian regions tighten local Covid-19 rules
Strolling in the centre of Venice and other northern cities is set to be temporarily banned. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and Friuli-Venezia Giulia will introduce new regional ordinances urging residents to avoid exercising or simply strolling on the streets of their town centres as part of efforts to avoid crowding and further transmission of the coronavirus.

READ ALSO: ‘No plan, just hope’: How is Italy going to get the second wave under control?

All three regions have opted to tighten local rules despite being classed as 'yellow zones', the lowest of three risk levels under the Italian government's tier system.

The added restrictions are the equivalent of “yellow plus”, said Veneto's regional governor Luca Zaia.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, he announced that the new rules would come into force from November 14th until December 3rd.

They will include:
  • No exercising or strolling in city centres, crowded areas or beachfronts;
  • Bars and restaurants to become table service-only from 3 to 6pm; 
  • Weekly street markets are cancelled, unless they have a detailed safety plan in place;
  • Shopping centres and outlets to close on weekends and all shops to close on Sundays, except for those selling essential supplies like supermarkets or pharmacies;
  • Only one person per household will be allowed to enter a shop at a time, except for parents accompanying children or people who need assistance;
  • Supermarkets are advised to reserve their first two hours of opening for shoppers aged over 65; 
  • In schools, sports lessons, singing and playing wind instruments are suspended. 

Emilia-Romagna and Friuli-Venezia Giulia will apply similar restrictions at the same time, their governors said.

Until the text of the new ordinances is published, it's unclear whether unauthorised strolling in one of the three regions will earn you a fine or simply a reprimand.

“We don't want to give fines, but shared rules that everyone respects,” said the governor of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Massimiliano Fedriga.

Exercise is still allowed, but residents are urged to find an isolated area to go for a walk or run. Meanwhile they can still access city centres for a valid reason, such as to go to work, go shopping or visit a restaurant.

The new restrictions come on top of baseline national regulations that have already closed high schools, museums, cinema and theatres, set a curfew from 10pm and ordered bars and restaurants to close at 6pm. 

Regions designated orange (medium-high risk) or red (high risk) have tougher limits in place, closing bars and restaurants to the public and banning travel between towns or outside the region.

The classification, which is based on a complex assessment of each region's epidemiological situation and the resilience of its health service, has proven controversial, with some of the regions currently reporting thousands of new infections per day – including Campania and Lazio – remaining yellow while regions with lower numbers are classed red or orange.

READ ALSO: How does Italy decide which regions are Covid-19 red zones?

The Health Ministry reevaluates the classification every few days, and it's rumoured that Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and Friuli-Venezia Giulia – as well as Campania – are all on its watchlist.

The three regions' joint ordinances are an effort to head off even tighter restrictions that could be ordered by the national government.

“It's better to make a few sacrifices today than find ourselves a red zone tomorrow,” said Zaia.

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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].”