Italian Government Bans Christmas Travel, Prompting Regional Leaders to Call the Order 'Crazy'

Italy's government announced on Wednesday that citizens will not be able to travel throughout the country during Christmas, angering regional leaders who said the new effort to contain the coronavirus's spread goes too far.

From December 21 to January 6, no Italian citizen will be able to travel among the country's 20 regions except for work, medical reasons or emergencies, the government order said.

On Christmas Day and New Year's Day, residents will not even be permitted to leave their specific towns. Those who live in small towns or villages within walking distance to the next will still be banned from leaving their own town limits.

The order adds that travel to "second homes located in a region or autonomous province other than one's own" will be prohibited.

In response, regional leaders issued a joint statement saying that they had not been consulted on the new order and that "the lack of discussion has made it impossible to balance the curbs with the needs of families," Reuters reported.

"These families must remain divided even at Christmas. This is yet more proof that the government does not know Italy," said Matteo Salvini, leader of the country's rightist League opposition party.

Attilio Fontana, the governor of the northern Lombardy region, which has reported the most coronavirus cases and COVID-19 deaths in the country, also attacked the order.

"Reading an unexpected decree that bans movements between towns in the same region on Dec. 25, 26 and Jan. crazy," he said.

The government has also implemented a nationwide 10 p.m. curfew, which means the Christmas Eve Mass, traditionally held at midnight, must be held earlier in the evening.

Giuseppe Conte
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte holds a press conference Wednesday to announce a new emergency decree on containing the spread of the coronavirus. Alessandro Serranò/Getty

"It will be a different kind of Christmas. Sacrifices are still necessary in order not to expose ourselves to a third wave in January with a high number of deaths," said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Italian television last week, according to the Italian edition of The Local.

The new decree is just one part of a set of efforts that the government was expected to announce on Thursday. Additional measures could include implementing a 10-day quarantine for those traveling to Italy from foreign countries, as well as strict recommendations to limit the number of guests during Christmas celebrations.

"A free and democratic state cannot enter homes and say how many people can sit at the table," Conte said Tuesday, according to The Local. "There will be limitations on social occasions in general."

An increase in new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations has slowed throughout the country in recent weeks, but Italy is still reporting the highest daily death rates of any country in Europe.

Italy was the first epicenter of the pandemic in the West. So far, it has reported over 1.6 million coronavirus infections and 58,038 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

"With the next emergency decree, we must continue with serious and rigorous measures," said the country's health minister, Roberto Speranza, in an address to Parliament on Wednesday.

"We still need a few weeks of sacrifices," he said. "The [contagion] wave is still high, and our navigation remains difficult. Let us not be under any illusions."