Italians decry Christmas Covid travel ban as ‘slap in the face’ | World news

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The Italian government’s move to ban people travelling around the country during the Christmas period has been described as a “slap in the face” to families and their deeply rooted traditions.

Italy has imposed some of the harshest Christmas rules in Europe amid calls from some scientists for more sober festivities as it overcomes a severe second coronavirus wave and tries to avoid a third one.

The rules were signed on the day Italy registered its highest daily death toll – 993 – of the pandemic. At more than 53,000, the country has the most Covid-related deaths in mainland Europe and health officials say the tightening of restrictions is essential to prevent the sort of catastrophe the nation faced during the first wave in the spring.

Italy deaths

People will be barred from travelling between regions from 20 December until 6 January except for work, health or emergency reasons. On top of that, they will not be able to leave their towns on Christmas Day, St Stephen’s Day or New Year’s Day. This will prevent relatives who live in different areas from congregating on what is considered the most important occasion for family get togethers.

“Christmas is very important for Italians,” Riccardo Ciogli said outside Gatsby Cafe in Rome’s Esquilino district. “This is what we do – we get together with family, with friends, and we eat.” His friend Erica Salvatore, who works at the nearby federation of architects, is from the southern region of Molise, where she usually spends Christmas with her parents. “I will go and see them for a few days this weekend but I don’t know if I’ll be able to travel before 20December,” she said. “In Italy our traditions are very important, you can’t just take them away.”

Giulia Della Fratte, who also lives in Rome, said: “I kind of understand the ban on inter-regional travel but not the one between towns. Rome, for example, is made up of lots of different municipalities that are maybe only 1km apart – so how will that work? It’s nonsense.”

France reopened non-essential shops last weekend, allowing Christmas shopping to begin. Travel should be permitted form 15 December, when a 9pm to 7am curfew will kick in that will be lifted only for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Bars and restaurants will not reopen until January and private gatherings are set to be limited to six adults.

Germany has extended its “lockdown lite” until early January and tightened rules in the run-up to holidays so that it can relax them slightly over Christmas. Private meetings, restricted to 10 people from two households in November, are limited to five until 23 December when they will be eased to allow up to 10 from any number of households to meet, but only until 1 January when the stricter regime returns.

Austria’s strict lockdown ends this weekend. The government has announced a programme of mass testing over the next few weeks partly to allow more families to reunite over the festive period. Christmas markets have been cancelled.

Italy has banned inter-regional travel from 20 December to 6 January except for work, health or emergency reasons, and Italians may not leave their towns on Christmas Day, Boxing Day or New Year’s Day. Midnight mass on 24 December will be brought forward so worshippers can get home before the country’s 10pm curfew, and people arriving from EU countries between 10 and 21 December must present a negative test.

Spain has appealed for people to be responsible but will allow movement between regions “for family reasons” between 23 December and 6 January. Regional curfews, which range from 10pm to midnight, will be pushed back to 1.30am on 24 and 31 December, when when the limit for gatherings will be raised from six to 10, a measure that will also apply on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Authorities in the Netherlands are still debating whether restaurants (but not cafes and bars) should be allowed to reopen, and if the maximum number of guests from outside each household can be raised from three to six. Many Catholic churches have cancelled midnight mass and school holidays may be extended.

Belgium has said households may be in close contact with just one extra person over the Christmas period, although people living on their own will be allowed to meet two others. Fireworks are to be banned on New Year’s Eve to limit gatherings.

Poland will allow people to spend Christmas only with their immediate family, with no more than five guests to be invited to each household until at least 27 December and travel banned outside people’s home towns.

Jon Henley

During a press conference on Thursday night, the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, said “a different Christmas awaits”. He warned a third wave that could strike as early as January. “It is an essential caution to protect our loved ones,” Conte added.

Although the infection curve has been flattening and hospital admissions declining, the main concern is a resurgence of cases once the Christmas and new year festivities are over, as happened after a summer of mostly unbridled travel and socialising.

The rules will run alongside a 10pm-5am national curfew – extended until 7am on New Year’s Day. Ski resorts will remain closed until 7 January, while those who travel abroad between 21 December and 6 January must quarantine for 14 days upon their return.

Bars and restaurants in the majority of Italy’s 20 regions are closed as part of a “red, orange and yellow” tiered system of restrictions adopted in early November. As the infection curve slows, Conte said all regions would be in the yellow zone within a few weeks, meaning bars and restaurants could stay open until 6pm, including on Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day.

But this has brought little comfort to restaurant owners. “As a businessperson I am extremely angry,” said Valentina Santanicchio, a chef whose restaurant, Capitano del Popolo, in Orvieto has been closed since the Umbria region was placed in the orange zone last month. “Listening to Conte’s press conference, there wasn’t a word of solidarity towards the thousands who can’t work right now or who have lost jobs. And as a citizen, the Christmas travel ban is a slap in the face to families and their feelings.”

The Christmas restrictions were criticised by regional governors, who claimed in a joint statement that they were not consulted about curbs that they said were too harsh on families. Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party, said: “These families must remain divided even at Christmas. This is yet more proof that the government does not know Italy.”

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Italians decry Christmas Covid travel ban as ‘slap in the face’ | World news

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