World News

Italy coalition squabbles over recruiting volunteers to enforce distancing

ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s coalition partners quarrelled on Monday over a proposal to recruit volunteers to enforce social distancing rules as the country gradually rolls back its coronavirus-related restrictions.

FILE PHOTO: People sit at a reopened restaurant on the waterfront, as Italy eases some of the lockdown measures put in place during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Naples, Italy May 21, 2020. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca/File Photo

Regional Affairs Minister Francesco Boccia, a member of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), said some 60,000 volunteers would help to avert gatherings, after footage of crowds triggered fears that infections may surge again.

However, the co-governing 5-Star Movement came out against the initiative, opening another rift within the often quarrelsome ruling coalition.

Deputy Industry Minister Stefano Buffagni, from 5-Star, wrote on Facebook that Boccia had not consulted his allies before announcing the plan, which Buffagni said he was “absolutely against”.

The interior ministry, which is responsible for maintaining order, said it had also not been consulted, while the small, centrist Italia Viva party called the proposal “madness” that must be stopped immediately.

Its Senate leader Davide Faraone told state broadcaster RAI Radio 1 that Italians don’t need “sheriff citizens”.

Italy is relaxing a nationwide lockdown imposed in early March, permitting travel within regions and meetings between friends, while allowing bars to serve drinks as long as a two-metre security distance is respected.

TV images over the first post-lockdown weekend showed traffic jams in Naples and crowds in Milan, while the Veneto region published a video with images of patients in intensive care to convince people to comply with security measures.

Boccia told daily newspaper La Stampa the government would recruit volunteers, called civic assistants, to help with checking crowds and for community services, such as taking groceries to people who need them.

He said some would be beneficiaries of the government’s support scheme for the poor, known as the Citizen’s Income.

Early in May, when Italy began to soften lockdown measures, large groups of people gathered in parks and in the canal area of Milan, one of the cities worst-hit by the coronavirus, provoking the ire of Mayor Giuseppe Sala.

Sala said on Facebook on Monday he was frustrated by some citizens’ failure to follow the rules, adding it was “unthinkable” to repeat what happened over the weekend.

Reporting by Angelo Amante, editing by Ed Osmond and Hugh Lawson