Italians marked the annual “Ferragosto”, a public holiday which falls on August 15 every year amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Ferragosto, the Italian name for the holiday, comes from the Latin “Feriae Augusti”, and marks the official peak of the summer holiday season when most Italians head to beaches, mountains, or across borders with family and friends, reports Xinhua news agency.
The festival was introduced by the ancient Roman Emperor Augustus over 2,000 years ago.
Because of the pandemic, this is the first Ferragosto without the traditional country festivals (called “sagre” in Italian), which celebrate a particular food product, animal, plant, or historic custom, and which are held in villages and small towns throughout the country at this time of year.
The “sagre” have been banned in order to prevent people from crowding after a recent spike in new coronavirus infections.
According to a survey by the National Confederation of Farmers (Coldiretti, in its Italian acronym), 73 per cent of respondents said that under normal circumstances, they would have attended a local “sagra” during the Ferragosto holiday.
The banning of the “sagre” affects approximately 34,000 food vendors, the Coldiretti analysis said, adding that “92 per cent of typical national (food and wine) products originate in small Italian villages with under 5,000 inhabitants”.
On August 13, the Health Ministry imposed mandatory swabs to test for the virus on anyone returning from Croatia, Greece, Malta, and Spain – traditional summer holiday destinations for many Italians.
“Young people want to travel and have fun, and rightly so,” Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said, adding that the nation’s prefects will conduct stringent checks in tourist resorts and areas frequented by youth, “many of whom underestimate the risks they are exposing themselves to”.
“This is why I call on (young people) to…maintain responsible behaviours.”
The spike in cases also prompted the government to issue a decree on August 7 extending to September 7 “the minimum precautionary measures to combat and contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus”.
These include mandatory wearing of face masks in enclosed public spaces, and the obligation to guarantee social distancing during public events both indoors and outdoors.
Italy, one of the worst-hit countries in Europe, has so far reported a total of 253,438 coronavirus cases, with 35,392 deaths.