MILAN – The mayor of Milan — the first Western metropolis to shut down because of the coronavirus —reacted furiously Friday to images of young people ignoring social distancing rules as they gathered in a trendy neighborhood for the typical aperitivo.
Mayor Giuseppe Sala warned that ‘’a handful of crazy people’’ were putting the city’s economic recovery at risk.
‘’There are moments when it is time to get pissed off. And this is one of those moments,’’ Sala said in a video address.
’We are not just in a health crisis -- and we see how the pandemic has touched this city -- but we are in a deep socioeconomic crisis,'' Sala said.
It was the second time since Italy eased the two-month lockdown on Monday — allowing greater freedom of movement inside town and city limits and sending more than 4.5 million people back to work — that Milan city officials have castigated public behavior. The deputy mayor earlier this week warned parks would be closed if people didn't stop gathering in groups and if they didn't keep their masks on.
Sala said that irresponsible behavior risked the ability of other categories of workers to restart their jobs on May 18 when stores reopen and June 1 when restaurants and bars reopen to seated guests. Deputy Mayor Anna Scavuzzo told SkyTG24 that there were both municipal and state police out trying to enforce the rules along the popular Navilgi on Thursday night, but “there were hundreds who don’t listen to reason.”
"I won’t allow a handful of crazy people without masks, sitting one next to the other put everything in doubt," Sala said.
Milan is the financial heart of Italy and the seat of its hardest-hit region of Lombardy, which has registered more than one-third of Italy’s coronavirus cases and half of its deaths. Bars and restaurants have been shuttered for two months except for delivery and since Monday takeout -- and the local restaurant association says that 2,000 of the 7,000 of the city's establishments may not survive the crisis.
Milan residents who were forced to remain inside for two months except for the strictest necessity are reveling in their new freedom to move about the city, with masks required.
On Friday, police patrols increased in the Navigli, a popular evening spot of restaurants and pubs bordering canals. Only a handful of people seemed to be partaking in the uniquely Milanese aperitivo — a ritual that in normal times can substitute dinner with small plates of food accompanying a Spritz or Negroni. Now, drinks mostly must be taken in plastic cups, standing, without even a potato chip.
Local business said the mayor’s reaction was perhaps exaggerated — and rather than threatening to close the few businesses struggling to stay open the focus should be on increasing patrols.
‘’More than gatherings, I saw more of a flow of people,’’ said Gregorio Mancino, who sells paintings out of a canal-side shop. ‘’It didn’t seem like all of Milan was here, but maybe there was a bit of a rush hour, more people than usual.’’ Most wore masks, although some had them around their neck.
The manager of a nearby pizzeria, Fabbrica Pizzeria, said he at most saw some adolescents hanging out — and the pace of pizza sales since takeout began on Monday doesn't indicate any rush. While during peak days in normal times they sell more than 300 pizzas a day, the pace this week has been at most a dozen, he said.
The head of Italy’s national health institute, Silvio Brusaferro, said he supported Italy’s gradually reopening as the infection curve flattens and the number of people who have recovered outpace those who are currently positive. But he said going out for a drink without masks risked bringing the virus back the circulation.
“It’s not that just because we’re in Phase II that the virus has changed its identity or characteristics. The virus has the same characteristics and way of transmission that it had in Phase I.,” Brusaferro said.
Colleen Barry reported from Soave, Italy. Frances D'Emilio and Nicole Winfield contributed from Rome.
This story has been corrected to show that Lombardy is more than one-third of Italy’s positive cases, not two-thirds.