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Why are so many Italians still wearing face masks in shops?

Italy has now eased its mask-wearing requirements in all but a handful of settings. So why is it still so common to see face masks worn in the country's shops, restaurants, and even outdoors?

Why are so many Italians still wearing face masks in shops?
A file photo from March 2020 taken at a market in Rome. More than two years on, many people are still wearing masks when shopping despite the rules being relaxed. Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

As of May 1st, it’s no longer mandatory to wear masks in Italy’s shops, bars, and restaurants. But some visitors, as well as social media users outside of Italy, voiced their surprise this week upon finding that many people in Italy are still wearing masks in such places regardless.

After videos were widely shared on social media this week showing people wearing face masks in Italian shops and supermarkets despite the end of the mask mandate, people in and outside of the country commented with their theories as to why many Italians appear reluctant to remove their face coverings just yet.

READ ALSO: Where do you still need to wear a mask in Italy from May 1st?

Some suggested mask-wearing had now become the socially acceptable thing to do – and that perhaps this shouldn’t come as a shock in a country where, in general, health and hygiene are taken particularly seriously.

“Imagine being surprised to find out that in Italy sometimes people follow social norms more than legal norms,” wrote Twitter user Giulio Mattioli.

“I mean if Italians are going to take masks as seriously as they take their rules about food, we’re going to see them around in 100 years from now,” he added.

Many people also responded to the videos to suggest that the reason so many continue to wear masks in Italy is likely to be trauma or fear of the virus, as the country was hit so hard by the pandemic early on and suffered an especially high death toll.

However, as we saw in March 2020, many people in Italy were already choosing to wear masks and gloves in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, weeks before the government made face coverings mandatory in public places.

“We are a much more responsible and respectful country than it seems from social media and talk shows,” tweeted prominent Italian virologist Roberto Buriani in response to one video appearing to show customers wearing masks in a Turin supermarket on Tuesday.

“The law doesn’t require you to give way to an elderly person on a bus, but many do so anyway. And many wear a mask even if it is not mandatory,” he said. “Good.”

Whether the relatively widespread voluntary use of masks in Italy is rooted in fear of the virus, social norms around health and hygiene, or perhaps a sense of collective social responsibility, the still-masked Italians The Local spoke to this week gave more straightforward explanations.

In the southern city of Bari on Wednesday, many shoppers wearing masks at the Coop supermarket said they were simply doing so out of habit.

“But doesn’t it feel strange to walk into a shop without putting on your mask? It’s like leaving the house without shoes on,” joked police officer Lorenzo, 41.

“I didn’t really think about it,” he said, noting that he still has to wear a mask at work every day.

Others said they were still being cautious.

“Every year the government removes all the rules in summer, no matter what,” said Tiziana, a former office administrator who says she lost her job due to the pandemic. “So what they say doesn’t interest me. Yes, we are vaccinated, but I visit my elderly mother every day.”

Asked if she thought people in Italy were being especially careful after being hit hard by Covid, she said: “maybe in the north, where they suffered so much.”

Checkout operator Giulia, 27, said she was glad some customers were still wearing masks “but a lot of people didn’t want to wear them, at least not properly, all through the pandemic … It was very difficult.”

In Venice on Thursday, cafe customer Sabino, 72, shrugged: “Boh. Why not wear it? It doesn’t bother me.”

“I’ll take it off when the weather gets hot,” he added.

Member comments

  1. I think the problem is that apart from us all getting so used to the masks the authorities are so inconsistant , the italian gov says one thing and the regional govs say another ? so we keep wearing the masks so as not to get in trouble .

  2. It’s because they’re terrified of the bull they’re spoon fed on their television news, it’s that simple.

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For members


Reader question: What are Italy’s Covid quarantine rules for travellers?

Italy's quarantine rules have changed so many times over the past couple of years, it can be hard to keep track. Here's the latest information on when and how visitors need to self-isolate.

Reader question: What are Italy's Covid quarantine rules for travellers?

Question: “One of your recent articles says you can exit quarantine by testing negative for the coronavirus. But you can also exit quarantine by obtaining a certificate of recovery from Covid-19… true?”

Unfortunately, official proof of having recovered from Covid-19 won’t get you out of the requirement to self-isolate if you test positive for Covid while visiting Italy – though it can shorten your quarantine period.

The health ministry’s current rules state that anyone who tests positive while in Italy is required to immediately self-isolate for a minimum of seven days: that’s if the person in question is fully vaccinated and boosted, or has completed their primary vaccination cycle, or was certified as being recovered from Covid less than 120 days ago.

That period is extended to 10 days for those who aren’t fully vaccinated and boosted, or those who recovered from Covid or completed their primary vaccination cycle more than 120 days ago.

In either case, the infected person must have been symptomless for at least three days in order to exit quarantine (with the exception of symptoms relating to a lost sense of taste or smell, which can persist for some time after the infection is over).

READ ALSO: Travel in Italy and Covid rules this summer: what to expect

The patient must also test negative for the virus via either a molecular (PCR) or rapid antigen test on the final day of the quarantine in order to be allowed out.

Read more about getting tested while in Italy in a separate article here.

Quarantined people who keep testing positive for the virus can be kept in self-isolation for a maximum of 21 days, at which point they will be automatically released.

Italy does not currently require visitors from any country to test negative in order to enter its borders, as long as they are fully boosted or were recently vaccinated/ have recently recovered from Covid.

READ ALSO: How tourists and visitors can get a coronavirus test in Italy

Some countries (including the US), however, do require people travelling from Italy to test negative before their departure – which means visitors at the tail end of their journey could be hit with the unpleasant surprise of finding out they need to quarantine for another week in Italy instead of heading home as planned.

It’s because of this rule that a number of The Local’s readers told us they wouldn’t be coming on holiday to Italy this summer, and intend to postpone for another year.

If you are planning on visiting Italy from a country that requires you to test negative for Covid prior to re-entry, it’s a good idea to consider what you would do and where you would go in the unlikely event you unexpectedly test positive.

Please note that The Local cannot advise on specific cases. For more information about how the rules may apply to you, see the Italian Health Ministry’s website or consult the Italian embassy in your country.

You can keep up with the latest updates via our homepage or Italian travel news section.