‘Unacceptable crowds’: Alarm as Christmas shoppers pack Italian cities

Health officials have urged caution after pictures showed city centres across Italy packed with Christmas shoppers over the weekend.

'Unacceptable crowds': Alarm as Christmas shoppers pack Italian cities
Rome shopping streets were packed on Sunday, December 13th. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

“Don't let us see any more photos like the ones from today: we must all avoid a third wave taking place,” said Domenico Arcuri, Italy's Covid-19 emergency commissioner.

Speaking on Italian TV on Sunday evening, he was referring to pictures of city centres across Italy thronged with people earlier that day, as restrictions were eased in several regions and many bars and restaurants reopened for the first time in weeks.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus risk level downgraded in five more Italian regions

“It would be difficult to start the vaccination campaign [in January] with the curve steepening again,” Arcuri warned, calling the crowds “unacceptable”. 

While shopping centres and large outlets have to close on weekends, individual shops and department stores are allowed to remain open – but since they can only admit a limited number of people at once, long queues are apt to form outside and clog busy streets even further. 

In Rome, the historic centre became so crowded that police temporarily blocked off the Trevi Fountain.

A busy street in central Rome on Sunday. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

There were also reports of lines outside restaurants in Milan and Turin on Sunday, after the surrounding regions of Lombardy and Piedmont went from orange zones to yellow zones under Italy's tier system, which tighten restrictions in areas of higher risk.

The change means that bars and restaurants can reopen their tables to customers until 6pm, after weeks of serving only take-away. 

Basilicata and Calabria also went yellow in Sunday's update, while Italy's last remaining red zone Abruzzo was downgraded to orange.

The update leaves most of Italy in yellow, with only a handful of orange zones and no red zones.

There is speculation, however, that the government could retighten the rules over Christmas, as Germany has just done.

According to unconfirmed reports in the Italian media, the government may be considering declaring the whole of Italy a red or orange zone over the holidays, with restrictions on travel and business openings. The government's scientific committee is due to meet ministers later on Monday.

TIMELINE: How Italy's coronavirus rules get stricter towards Christmas

As things stand, Italy will impose stricter limits on international and domestic travel from December 21st to January 6th, with everyone arriving from overseas subject to 14 days of quarantine and crossing between Italian regions only allowed in emergencies. 

In addition, non-essential travel between towns will be forbidden on December 25-26th and January 1st.

Find out more about Italy's Christmas coronavirus rules here.

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When do the January 2023 sales start in Italy?

As we enter a new year, shops in Italy are gearing up for their big winter sales. Here's when they begin in each region.

When do the January 2023 sales start in Italy?

The law in Italy dictates that shops are allowed just two big saldi, or sales, a year – one in the summer, one in the winter – with dates varying according to region.

The practice aims to boost consumption and give vendors a chance to shift the last season’s stock while ensuring an even playing field between competitors.

The custom actually dates back to the Fascist era, having first been introduced via a 1939 law. It was scrapped for about four decades after the collapse of Mussolini’s regime, but was brought back in an updated form in 1980.

In 1997, the law was revised to hand autonomy over to individual regions, which is why the saldi in different regions have different start and end dates.

All this means that while in many countries sales start as soon as Boxing Day, in Italy you’ll have to wait until January to pick up a bargain in the saldi invernali (winter sales).

READ ALSO: How to make the most of winter sales shopping in Milan

The good news is you’ll have plenty of time to do so, as they typically last at least a few weeks.

When do the 2023 winter sales start?

Here’s when the 2023 sales officially begin and end in each Italian region:

  • Abruzzo: January 5th-March 6th
  • Basilicata: January 2nd-March 2nd
  • Calabria: January 5th-March 6th
  • Campania: January 5th-March 6th
  • Emilia Romagna: January 5th-March 6th
  • Friuli Venezia Giulia: January 5th-March 31st
  • Lazio: January 5th-February 16th
  • Liguria: January 5th-February 18th
  • Lombardy: January 5th-March 5th
  • Marche: January 5th-March 1st
  • Molise: January 5th-March 6th
  • Piedmont: January 5th-March 2nd
  • Puglia: January 5th-February 28th
  • Sardinia: January 5th-March 6th
  • Sicily: January 2nd-March 15th
  • Tuscany: January 5th-March 6th
  • Umbria: January 5th-March 5th
  • Veneto: January 5th-February 28th
  • Valle d’Aosta: January 3rd-March 31st

The autonomous provinces of Trento and Bolzano have their own sales periods: vendors in Trento hold sales for any 60-day period of their choosing, while different towns in Bolzano, Oltradige and Bassa Atesina will hold sales either from January 7th to February 4th or March 4th to April 1st.

Italian law states that the items on sale must come only from the season just gone, rather than things that have been sitting on the shelves for months (though the rule is hard to enforce).

When it comes to fashion, that means you’ll mainly find stock from autumn-winter collections on sale.

Discounts usually start at around 20-30 percent and climb as high as 70 percent.

Shops are required to display both the original and discounted prices, so you know exactly how much of a bargain you’re getting.