Rome, Italy – Italians entering their third day of a nationwide coronavirus lockdown on Thursday struggled to adjust to their new reality, with national news outlets reporting 161 individuals had been sanctioned by police in a single day for violating a decree.
Those found guilty face a three-month prison sentence or a fine of 206 euros ($230) as authorities sought to enforce the new rules.
Many of these were unambiguous violations, such as holding a funeral procession, keeping establishments open past the 6pm curfew, or moving between towns without carrying an “auto-certifying” form allowing the holder to travel for a pre-approved reason.
Other breaches, however, were less clear-cut.
On Wednesday, news outlets reported that police sanctioned a 51-year-old Peruvian man in Rome, a group of five men in Mantova, and 17-year-old who was travelling in Milan to see his girlfriend on charges of “being on the streets unnecessarily” and “moving around without a valid reason”.
On the same day, a video of police in Naples shouting at an elderly man sitting alone on a bench to go home was widely circulated online. Bemused viewers noted the decree did not impose a blanket ban on going outside, and expressly allowed people to leave their houses for exercise provided they maintained a one-metre distance from others.
Lucas Mennella, a history teacher in Rome, said he and his girlfriend were walking near the Colosseum on Wednesday when they were stopped by a policewoman who told them they had to return home because “the situation was not good”.
“We said it wasn’t true that we couldn’t be outside [as it wasn’t at the time], that we were limited to the comune but were going for a walk, but then we just gave up and walked back the other way,” he told Al Jazeera.
As similar stories proliferated throughout the internet, online comment boards and social media accounts across the country erupted in confusion, with users questioning why parks, bars, and restaurants were being kept open if people were not allowed to use them.
In a speech delivered on Wednesday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte addressed some of their questions by announcing all establishments except for grocery stores and pharmacies were to close until March 25, but said parks would remain open for sports and activities.
At the same time, however, updated guidance from the Interior Ministry stipulated all Italian residents must now carry the “auto-certification” form to leave their homes, with the only valid reasons for going outside being to fulfil essential work requirements, for health needs, or for other strict necessities.
The seemingly conflicting instructions left news outlets scrambling to come up with their own interpretation of the rules.
On Thursday morning, the national daily Corriere della Sera ran an article headlined “Walks Not Allowed” at the same time as the newspaper La Reppublica declared “Going For A Walk Is Not Banned”, citing unnamed sources from the Interior Ministry.
“I would like to know, unequivocally, whether or not I can go for a walk to stretch my legs. Does that count as sport? And if I do not have sportswear on, could an overzealous policeman sanction me?” Federico Anghele, a Genoa-based campaigner for the non-profit organisation The Good Lobby, asked Al Jazeera.
When contacted, a spokesperson from the Interior Ministry press office confirmed people are permitted to go for a walk outside by themselves in the vicinity of their home, or take their dog for a walk, provided they bring their “auto-certification” form with them, checking the “reasons of necessity” box.
Police could not confirm the media reports that 161 people had been sanctioned by the time of publication.