As Italy ends lockdown, Milan mayor rebukes crowds socialising outside

MILAN (Reuters) - The mayor of Milan issued a furious threat on Friday to close down popular open spaces in the city after television footage showed crowds socialising and apparently ignoring public health rules aimed at preventing a resurgence of the coronavirus.

FILE PHOTO: A sunset in Navigli district is seen, after a decree orders for the whole of Italy to be on lockdown in an unprecedented clampdown aimed at beating the coronavirus,in Milan Italy, March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Daniele Mascolo

Italy loosened some of the toughest lockdown restrictions in Europe on Monday, allowing many businesses to re-open and giving people more freedom to move about but authorities have insisted that strict social distancing measures must still be respected.

The rules have been widely respected but several incidents have been reported of large groups of people, many not wearing protective masks, gathering in parks and other outdoor spaces, including the Navigli, Milan’s popular canal area.

“Yesterday’s images from along the Navigli were disgraceful,” Giuseppe Sala, the mayor of Milan, said in one of his regular online messages from his office in the city centre.

“Either things change today, or tomorrow I’ll be here in Palazzo Marino and I’ll pass measure to close the Navigli, I’ll stop takeaway services and then you can explain to the people who work in bars why the mayor isn’t allowing them to do business,” he said.

“This isn’t a game, we can’t allow this in a city of 1.4 million inhabitants,” he said.

Sala’s comments reflect the deep concern among Italian authorities that the staged end to a lockdown imposed in early March could lead to a renewed flare-up in the epidemic if careful social distancing measures are not respected.

In a news conference in Rome the head of the National Health Institute, Silvio Brusaferro also warned that the epidemic was not over and called for responsible behaviour.

“The virus hasn’t changed its identity, it’s transmitted in the same way ... if we form gatherings and break the rules that have given our health system some breathing space then this will allow it to circulate again,” Brusaferro said.

Italy, now facing its worst recession since World War Two, has been among the worst affected countries in the world, with some 30,000 dead and Lombardy, the region around the financial capital Milan, has accounted for around half of these.

The government, desperate to get as many companies back to work as possible, plans a staged re-opening of the economy with factories and construction sites opened this week and shops allowed to open from May 18.

Restaurants and bars are allowed to sell food and drinks to take away but will not be allowed to re-open fully until June.

Reporting by James Mackenzie, additional reporting by Gavin Jones, editing by Louise Heavens