Young women at a beach club in Fregene near Rome, before the government closed nightclubs and discos – AFP
Italy has ordered the closure of all nightclubs and discos amid growing concerns that young people are catching and spreading the coronavirus, which has so far killed more than 35,000 Italians.
It was the first re-imposition of restrictions since Italy’s strict national lockdown began easing in May.
The decision comes as the number of new cases increases, rising from an average of around 300 a day last month to as high as 600 a day this month.
On Saturday, 629 new cases were reported – the first time there had been more than 600 daily cases since May – while on Sunday there were 479 cases.
There are fears that unless urgent action is taken, Italy could be heading back to the darkest days of March and April, the height of the pandemic.
A big increase in infections could jeopardise the planned reopening of Italy’s schools on September 14.
Millions of parents are counting on the reopening of schools, which have been closed since early March.
As well as shutting down discos and nightclubs, it is now compulsory to wear a facemask where large numbers of people gather, for instance outside bars and pubs, between 6pm and 6am.
The nightclub sector, worth €4 billion a year and employing around 50,000 people, was furious over the decision.
But the government said it was unavoidable, with many young people contracting Covid-19 and the average age of patients falling to below 40. The new regulations begin today and will last until early September.
Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza – Reuters
“We cannot nullify the sacrifices made in past months. Our priority must be that of opening schools in September, in full safety,” Roberto Speranza, the health minister, wrote on Facebook. He said there was a danger that young people could infect their parents and grandparents.
Health experts said it was vital not to squander all the sacrifices that Italians made during lockdown.
“Either we all follow the rules or we risk having to close other activities,” said Franco Locatelli, the president of the Higher Health Council and a member of the government’s Covid-19 advisory panel.
The closure of nightclubs was an urgent necessity, he added.
“It will have an economic impact, unfortunately, but public health must come before everything else,” said Prof Locatelli.
“For now, luckily, Italy is still in a privileged position, even though the number of cases has risen from 200-300 a day to more than 600 at the weekend. We’re in a better position than France and Spain but there is the risk of an exponential growth in the curve in the next two weeks.”