Italy is to shut discos and clubs for three weeks and make it compulsory to wear a mask outdoors in some areas at night after an increase in new Covid-19 cases.
The new rules mark the first reimposition of coronavirus restrictions as cases pick up across the country, especially among younger people.
New cases in the past week in Italy, the first European country to be hit hard by the coronavirus, were more than double those registered three weeks ago and the median age of people contracting the virus has dropped below 40, data showed.
The new rules will start on Monday – two days after an Italian holiday when many young Italians go out dancing – and will run until early September.
Masks will be required between 6pm and 6am in areas close to bars and pubs and where gatherings are more likely.
‘We cannot nullify the sacrifices made in past months. Our priority must be that of opening schools in September, in full safety,’ Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Facebook.
Speranza on Saturday urged young people to be as cautious as possible as ‘if they infect their parents and their grandparents, they risk creating real damage’.
The government had kept clubs open despite mounting criticism that they attracted large crowds, that social distancing was not being respected and masks were not being worn.
The industry has yearly revenues of 4 billion euros, the sector’s lobby group Silb said, calling on the government for support.
Industry Minister Stefano Patuanelli conceded there would be economic damage, but said he saw no alternative.
On Sunday, 479 new cases were confirmed, down from 629 on Saturday, with nightlife, the return of holidaymakers, and younger generations flouting social distancing rules being blamed by medical experts for the recent hike.
Since its outbreak came to light on Feb. 21, Italy has recorded more than 35,000 deaths.
Testing on holidaymakers landing in Rome’s airports began on Sunday after the government said on Wednesday that people travelling from Croatia, Greece, Malta and Spain must be screened for the virus.
Meanwhile, the first cruise ship set sail from Italy since its pandemic lockdown after the Italian government gave its approval for cruises to depart from the country’s ports earlier this month, limited to 70 per cent capacity.
Cruise ship passengers were required to have their temperatures checked and took COVID-19 tests on Sunday so they could set sail on what is being billed as the first Mediterranean cruise after Italy’s pandemic lockdown.
The cruise ship company MSC has made the procedures, for crew as well as passengers, part of its new health and safety protocols. The MSC Grandiosa, which was christened last year, set sail from the northern Italian port of Genoa on Sunday evening for a seven-night cruise in the western Mediterranean.
Any one testing positive, or with a fever, or having other COVID-19 symptoms was denied boarding, the company said. Guest must wear face masks in elevators and other areas where social distancing is not possible. The crew spent time in quarantine before the start of the cruise.
MSC declined to say how many passengers were sailing on this cruise. Among the port calls for the Grandiosa, MSC’s flagship, are Naples, Palermo, Sicily and Valletta, Malta.
Malta is one of four Mediterranean countries that Italy now requires travelers arriving from to have COVID-19 tests.
For now, MSC was limiting its guests to the residents of Europe’s 26-nation Schengen visa free travel zone.
MSC said every guest and crew member on board will be given a wristband that ‘facilitates contactless transactions around the ship as well as providing contact and proximity tracing.’
Cruise ships and the business they bring to many Italian cities during port excursions make up an important segment of Italy’s vital tourism industry.
An estimated 12 million cruise ship passengers arrived or departed from Italian ports last year or made port calls in Italy, according to industry figures.