To better enforce their national lockdown, Italy may begin imposing bigger fines for violating quarantine. The new fines may go as high as 3,000 euros ($3,245) per violation. Police officers will also have the power to seize the vehicles of the offenders.
The Italian government, led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, is expected to approve the fines. The current fine for lockdown violations only goes as high as 206 euros ($222).
Under the Italian government’s current lockdown rules, nobody is allowed to go outside unless for essential business, which includes doing groceries, going to work, going to the hospital, or taking care of young or elderly family members. Some regions in Italy have enacted stronger rules. In the northern region of Lombardy, where the Italian outbreak first started, all outdoor physical and sports activities, even if done individually, are banned. Even the use of vending machines has been forbidden.
On Saturday, Italy reported a record-high 793 deaths in the country, which prompted the government to expand the already very strict national lockdown. Every single “non-essential” business in the country has been temporarily shuttered. The only businesses and institutions that can remain open are supermarkets and grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and post offices.
“Stay home, we don’t have a choice,” said Prime Minister Conte in a televised address announcing the expansion of the national lockdown.
Last week, Italian law enforcement officials charged more than 43,000 people for violating the lockdown. One serious case occurred in Sciacca, a town in the southern region of Sicily. The police discovered a man who was positive for COVID-19 while he was out shopping, meaning that he more than likely exposed other people before being sent to the hospital for treatment. This man is currently being charged with “aiding the epidemic” and may face up to 12 years in prison.
Another man in the city of Aosta, in the northwestern autonomous region of Aosta Valley, was charged for “aggravated attempt to spread the epidemic” because he failed to disclose to health workers that he had coronavirus symptoms before he went through a plastic surgery procedure on his nose. The man later tested positive for COVID-19, meaning he may have spread the disease to his doctor.
By Tuesday, Italian authorities had caught more than 100,000 people for violating the lockdown. These offenders were either outside for no good reason, or were lying about their reason for being out.
Public anger toward lockdown violators is increasing. Thousands of Italians have gone to social media to express their anger at their neighbors and even random strangers for leaving their homes since the implementation of the national lockdown.
Many people who have been found violating the lockdown have justified their behavior by pointing to certain ambiguities in the government’s decree, which allows people to go outside for certain reasons.
“The problem is that the governmental decree does not explicitly prohibit movement in public unless a person has tested positive for the virus or has come into contact with someone who is infected,” said Salvatore Vella, district attorney for the province of Agrigento in southwestern Sicily.
“If the decree had been more explicit, it would have granted prosecutors the ability to apply the law more clearly and would have given citizens a strong incentive not to break the law.”
In one famous instance, Vincenzo De Luca, regional president (governor) of the southern region of Campania was recorded during a livestream giving an angry sermon. “I’m getting word that someone is having a graduation party,” he said. “We’ll send in the carabinieri (paramilitary police), we’ll send them in with a flamethrower.”
In Turin, fear over the coronavirus has spiraled so badly that people have taken to taking pictures and videos or outright harassing people who violate the lockdown. The mayor of Turin, Chiara Appendino, said that so many people are being insulted and shamed for leaving their homes that it’s even affecting people who have to go to work in essential businesses, such as one supermarket employee who was harassed for trying to go to work.
“We cannot allow ourselves to be infected by the virus of rage,” Appendino told daily newspaper La Repubblica.
She may be a bit too late, however. Italians have begun using the term “untori” (“plague spreaders”) to refer to anyone seen outside. The term was borrowed from an Italian literary classic published in the early 19th century.
Nathalie Sitzia, mayor of Casaletto Lodigiano in Lombardy, located about 12 miles southeast of Milan, said that the “climate of general suspicion” in Italy was being fed by fear. It has gotten so bad that people inform on their neighbors even for just taking their dog on a walk.
Italian mayors lose patience with coronavirus lockdown dodgers!
Many people in Italy have not been heeding the instructions to stay indoors as the country battles coronavirus – a number of mayors of towns & cities are taking matters into their own hands.https://t.co/Adxg3moDMq pic.twitter.com/bqzR54E5SY
— Amy Mek (@AmyMek) March 24, 2020
Italy has a strong chance of fighting back against this pandemic. Between Sunday and Monday, the number of new reported cases has been declining. In Lombardy, the number of hospitalized patients is also beginning to decrease, from 9,439 to 9,266 confined cases.
“We can say that today is the first positive day,” said Giulio Gallera, Lombardy’s leading health official. “It’s not the moment to sing victory, but we finally see light at the end of the tunnel.”
However, if people continue to violate lockdown procedures, Italy may see another uptick in coronavirus cases. Prime Minister Conte hopes that this radical increase in fines for violators can deter more people from stepping out of their front doors.