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NIGHTLIFE

Are there really big crowds gathering outside Italian bars after reopening?

Following reports of large crowds gathering outside bars in Italy, here's how reopening is going around the country.

Are there really big crowds gathering outside Italian bars after reopening?
A barman prepares cocktails to take away by a sign reading "no eating and drinking at the counter". Photo: AFP

Bars, cafes and restaurants were allowed to reopen to the public in Italy from May 18th, with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte warning: “It's not the time for parties, nightlife or gatherings. During this phase, more than ever it's fundamental to respect distances and wear masks, where necessary.”

But over the past week, Italian media has been full of reports of crowds gathering at nightlife areas in cities from Palermo to Milan.

Angry officials, fearing a second wave of infection, first pleaded with people to stop. Then they promised to crack down, and said the current travel restrictions may be extended.

But some question just how bad the problem really is.

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As with so many things in Italy, it depends on which part of the country you're in. There's obviously more nightlife in big cties than in small towns, but readers report that some cities are much livelier than others.

My own city, Bari, in southern Italy, is never a particularly quiet place. So I wasn't really surprised to see that, every night since rules were lifted on May 18th, there have been crowds outside many cafes and bars, in central piazzas, and particularly on the lungomare: the walkway along the seafront.

Some bars and cafes, particularly smaller places, are only open for takeaway or outdoor table service, with owners concerned about whether they can actually enforce the rules and not wanting to risk fines of hundreds of euros.

The rules vary by region, but generally tables are supposed to be spaced apart by one metre or more, and masks are required inside bars, cafes and restaurants unless you're sat down.

While the crowds mainly gather in the evening, there's very little social distancing at any time of day and plenty of people spilling out of cafe doorways in the morning, too.. A lot of people wear masks, but not always over their faces.

A customer carries drinks outside a bar in the Ponte Milvio district of in Rome on May 21st. Photo: AFP

But is it the same all over the country? When I asked Twitter on Tuesday what the situation was like around Italy, here's what people said:

“In Bergamo on Saturday there was a big security presence stopping people from loitering in big crowds. The centre of town was very busy at the weekend, but people seem to be trying their best to stick to the rules.”

“Verona was fairly packed with folk out for an aperitivo. Little respect for social distancing rules/use of masks.”

“Catania so far is keeping a semi-orderly state. Most people have masks, not that they wear them properly. About 50 percent of the bars/restaurants have reopened and doing the minimum with protective measures. It's people in the streets that are too close, careless.”

“Very orderly in my Rome suburb but in the evenings there are crowds of young people practising social closeness in the piazza.”

Rome residents also said the situation is completely different from one part of the city to another, with some piazzas standing empty while others were crowded, and some bars enforcing the rules far more strictly than others.

Central Milan. Photo: AFP

So why are these crowds gathering? Are people out celebrating the end of lockdown? Not really. My impression is that they're just doing what they'd normally be doing on a warm evening in late May, if a bit more enthusiastically after two months shut indoors.

This week, much attention in the Italian press has been focused on the “movida”, a slightly retro word, borrowed from Spanish, sometimes used to describe Italy's summer nightlife.

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Rather than meeting up with friends at a bar or beer garden as we do in some countries, in Italy it's far more common to just meet at the piazza or seafront, or to go for a walk around town, perhaps getting a drink or an ice cream on the way, enjoying the cooler air after a hot day and stopping to chat with people you meet.

People aren't suddenly gathering in groups because lockdown has ended: this is just what summer evenings look like in Italian cities at this time of year – albeit usually without the masks.

And it doesn't seem as though people believe the danger has passed, either.

“We can't stay inside any longer. We need to get out and restart our social lives,” said 17-year-old Francesca, who spend Saturday night with a group of friends on Bari's seafront. “We're wearing masks, we're not drinking or causing problems. I think most people are following the rules.”

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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