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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.

  3. I’ve just read a warm hearted but hilarious book on Italy and Italians by far pre-dating Covid. There is an entire chapter titled Hypochondria. Also, look up “How to avoid getting ‘hit by air’ in italy”, a lovely very funny BBC news article that will explain a lot. Its warmly written and extremely elucidating.

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‘Not offensive’: Italian minister defends Covid testing rule for China arrivals

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani defended the policy of testing all arrivals from China for Covid-19 after Beijing said the policy "lacks scientific basis".

'Not offensive': Italian minister defends Covid testing rule for China arrivals

“It seems perfectly normal to me,” Tajani told Italian state broadcaster Rai on Tuesday. “Having a test is a way to protect people’s health. There is nothing offensive about it.”

“Lots of Chinese and Italians coming from China do it (anyway),” he claimed.

READ ALSO: Is the EU likely to reinstate Covid travel restrictions?

Italy was the first European country to make testing on arrival a requirement for passengers arriving on flights from China last week, after a surge in the infection rate there.

Italian Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said on Wednesday that the screening requirement was “essential to ensure the surveillance and identification of any variants of the virus in order to protect the Italian population”.

READ ALSO: Italy pushes for EU-wide China Covid measures as tests show no new variants

France and Spain have since introduced similar rules (as well as non-EU countries including the UK and USA) and there is now a meeting scheduled for Wednesday of the EU Integrated Policy Response Capability to discuss coordinating measures.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said the screening policy would be “ineffective” if not done on a European level, as only people arriving on direct flights from China were being tested in Italy, not those with stopovers.

But the Chinese government on Tuesday hit out at countries introducing a policy of mandatory testing for people arriving from China.

“Some countries have taken entry restrictions targeting only Chinese travellers,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning was quoted as saying at a briefing by AFP.

“This lacks scientific basis and some practices are unacceptable”.

She said Beijing may “take countermeasures based on the principle of reciprocity”.