“Put your masks on!” repeats the DJ, shouting vainly into his microphone, but the dancers below, dripping in sweat, don’t seem to care.
On a recent night at the Kiki nightclub in Ostia, a popular seaside resort on the outskirts of Rome, the coronavirus threat seems both distant and yet very present.
During a night for over-50s at this open-air disco on Ostia’s beachfront, the rules are well known: a mask is mandatory, and dancing must be done at least one metre from a partner.
“Who cares about all that,” laughed one partygoer, Claudio, his belly jutting forward and shirt wide open. With his mask in his pocket, he boogies alone, not to respect social distancing but because his friends are chatting elsewhere.
Around him, the approximately 200 to 300 party-goers dance to the blaring electro music, many without masks as they flirt, laugh and drink gin and tonics in the heat.
It takes the weary insistence of the staff, the calls of the DJ and a rumour of a possible police raid to get the crowd to comply begrudgingly and cover their faces.
– Party pooper –
While the threat of a second wave of coronavirus looms nearer in several European countries, such as Spain, Italy is trying to stem new infections in the middle of “Ferragosto”, the sacrosanct holiday weekend of August 15.
On Sunday, after a period of arm wrestling between the government and regions over the thorny issue of discos, Health Minister Roberto Speranza signed a decree suspending their operation.
The new rules go into effect on Monday, giving partygoers one last weekend night to celebrate.
Closed establishments had already been prohibited from operating but regions had the discretion to decide whether or not to allow open-air clubs.
Calabria, for one, had ordered the closure of all dance venues while Sardinia had kept them open. Some, like Veneto to the north, mandated reduced occupancy.
Already, traditional rites of summer have been altered. Bonfires on the beach and a traditional midnight jump into the sea at Ferragosto were banned this year.
The topic was politically sensitive, as authorities don’t want to appear to be punishing Italians during well-deserved summer holidays after a gruelling lockdown that was largely respected.
The sector employs nearly 50,000 people in 3,000 nightclubs around the country, according to the nightclub operators’ union (SILB).
– Wild and free? –
Images of crowds of young holiday-goers dancing and drinking at night have been plastered on the front pages of Italian newspapers.
“The contagion is on the rise but we’re dancing,” proclaimed the Corriere Della Sera, which slammed Sardinia’s clubs as being “joyful contagion machines”.
At the establishment Manila Beach in Fregene, on the coast outside Rome, party organiser Gianluca Skiki said his venue, which normally welcomes up to 2,000 customers on its beach, had to make do with 250.
Despite some semblances of a nightclub — a DJ, sequined miniskirts and high heels worn by some — the experience appeared odd. Couples were sitting at tables with distance between them to eat, and were instructed to dance only in front of their tables.
“If the police come, everyone has to be at their table,” Skiki explained. “There’s no real nightclub here any more, it’s about the only thing we’re allowed to organise.”
He acknowledged the experience fell short of the carefree, wild parties of the past.