Older Italians Warily Eye Young Crowds, Fearing 2nd Coronavirus Wave

29 mai 2020 Non Par ADMIN

MILAN — After months of living under a strict lockdown in Italy, a closely gathered group of teenagers welcomed a warm evening this week at a verdant park in Milan, gazing at phone screens, embracing and forming a small circle around a playful dog. No one wore a mask.

Pinuccia Ciancalloni, 59, who was taking her daily walk through the park on Tuesday, pointed at the group with dread. To her, the expressions of young love and healthy sociability amounted to a profound threat.

“The problem is with young people,” she said.

Italy, the country in Europe with the highest median age among its residents, has long agonized over its relative shortage of youths and the energy they bring. (Around 23 percent of the population is above 65, and about 16 percent is between 15 and 30.)

But the coronavirus pandemic has led many Italians to center their anxieties — unfairly, some experts say — on the public gatherings of the country’s teenagers and young adults, fearing they could bring the virus to the older population, causing a second wave of infections and a new round of restrictions.

To some, the young are being scapegoated. They say that the vast majority have respected the social-distancing rules.

“Young people are not today’s plague spreaders,” Nicola Zingaretti, the leader of the governing Democratic Party, wrote on Facebook.

Italy’s older population has suffered a devastating toll during the pandemic, with 80 being the average age of those who have died of Covid-19, according to Italy’s National Health Institute.

But virologists said that while young people could become vehicles to spread the infection to their more vulnerable relatives, it was too early to assess the scope of the danger represented by those enjoying a night out.

Italy has no limit on crowd sizes — except that people must keep a safe distance of one meter apart — now that the lockdown, once the strictest in Europe, has been all but lifted. So long as they observe the distance rule, people may move and meet freely within one region.

But newspapers and television footage have shown a constant stream of images of what one newspaper called “young people’s crazy nights out.” Local officials have called Italy’s young people “irresponsible.” Doctors have accused them of being “assassins.”

ImageLocal police officers on patrol in the Navigli neighborhood of Milan.
Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

Even the country’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, has reprimanded the youth.

“It is not yet the time for parties, movidas and gatherings of all sorts,” Mr. Conte said in an address to Parliament on May 21, using a Spanish word for nightlife favored by older Italians. He added that everyone needed to take it easy — “especially the young.”

In Brescia, one of the hardest-hit cities in the outbreak, crowds of young people standing inches apart, with their masks under their chins, have infuriated officials who said the young Italians had failed their first exam and would be subject to a weekend curfew. When others crowded into squares in Turin and Verona, the mayor introduced a rule insisting that public drinking could take place only inside bars, with fines of up to 3,000 euros (about $3,300).

On Monday, the national government announced a call for 60,000 volunteers to visit gathering places to remind people to respect the social-distancing rules.

Many said it reminded them of a move by a police state and described it as the introduction of Orwellian “cocktail voyeurs,” or an “antivirus army.” The government later explained it had no intention of creating a nightlife police force.

But most attention has centered on a stretch of bars in Milan, along the canals in Navigli, a neighborhood favored by young professionals and students. This month, large crowds pushed Milan’s mayor, Giuseppe Sala, to threaten to close down the area. On Tuesday, he banned the sale of takeout alcoholic drinks after 7 p.m.

Giorgia Gangi, 22, who was drinking an aperitif on Tuesday with her friends at a bar in the area called Ugo, said that while a minority of young people might have behaved irresponsibly after the lockdown, the great majority respected the rules still in place.

“Now it looks like we are the culprits,” she said. “It’s a mountain out of a molehill.”

Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

There are those, however, who acknowledge some irresponsible behavior by young people, but say it has largely been a result of inconsistent messages from officials and of the government’s largely abandoning the younger generation during the emergency, leaving schools and colleges closed while opening bars.

Raffaele Alberto Ventura, a writer and the author of “Theory of the Disadvantaged Class,” said that the fact that young people came under scrutiny only when discussing inessential leisure activities such as drinking and socializing highlighted that many were unemployed or unemployable and reliant on their parents’ income.

“This crisis puts under the spotlight a deeper problem: the existence of a whole age group that is forced to be inessential,” he wrote in an email on Monday.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated May 28, 2020

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      More than 40 million people — the equivalent of 1 in 4 U.S. workers — have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic took hold. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • Is ‘Covid toe’ a symptom of the disease?

      There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.

Giulia Renna, 20, who was drinking an aperitif with her boyfriend in the Navigli area on Tuesday, agreed. She said that they had both lost their on-call jobs during the emergency and that she did not understand how, in a country that “does not consider young people,” they were suddenly being blamed.

“It’s unfair,” she declared.

Gemma Calamandrei, who leads the behavioral science and mental health department at Italy’s National Health Institute, said that young people became an easy target for a general population that has lost a sense of control.

She said the “criminalization” of youth was one way to cope with the fear.

“Finding an external visible enemy helps,” she explained.

Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

Andrea Crisanti, a professor of microbiology who served as Veneto’s top consultant for the coronavirus emergency, also criticized the “condemnation of the youth,” saying that officials had never clearly explained social-distancing measures, the actual danger represented by young people and the use of masks.

Back at the Milan park, the teenagers still seemed confused about the Lombardy region’s rule that masks must be worn outside.

“I can see my friends outside, but wearing a mask,” Nina Bellafiore, 17, said, while wearing her mask around her arm.

One of her friends disagreed, saying that outdoors, masks were not compulsory.

While others blithely argued that only the old got sick and died from the virus, Ms. Bellafiore said she was not scared of infecting her parents because she did not hug her friends, she showered every time she returned home and she talked to her grandmother only from the street below her balcony.

“I never felt guilty,” she said.