Riots erupted yesterday night in Naples as people took to the street following the imposition of a curfew to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
Videos and photos on social media showed incredible scenes as many young people clashed with police officers in one of the biggest cities in the south of Italy.
It comes after the country saw a rise in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, with some regions, in particular Lombardy and Campania, seeing a huge spike in infections.
Vincenzo De Luca, President of the Campania region, said on Friday that he was considering imposing a total lockdown, closing schools, businesses and leaving only essential services open, to prevent further spread of the virus.
The announcement was seen as a big blow as people are worried about their livelihoods if a second lockdown is imposed.
But De Luca said the region is now at a critical point and he wants to act before it is too late.
He said: “Current data on the contagion make any kind of partial measure ineffective.
“We have to close everything, except for those businesses that produce and transport essential goods.
“We need to make one last effort to get things under control.
“We need to shut everything down for a month, for 40 days,” he added, without saying when the shutdown would begin.
Campania recorded 2,280 new coronavirus cases yesterday, bringing the total number of infections in the region to 34,305.
According to data released by the local health authority, 12 more people died after contracting Covid-19.
The total number of coronavirus-related fatalities in the region currently stands at 563.
Campania has already closed most of its schools and imposed a nighttime curfew, and in the evening police used tear gas in Naples against hundreds of people protesting against the prospect of even tougher measures.
They were the first such demonstrations in Italy since the start of its coronavirus outbreak eight months ago.
The violent protests also saw bottles being thrown at police, the Italian news agency Ansa reported.
Protesters held a banner addressing the region’s president De Luca, which read: “You close us, you pay us.”
As the riots went on, the group of demonstrators became bigger with more people joining them as they walked along the streets of Naples.
Many were chanting “freedom, freedom, freedom” during their procession.
Almost every demonstrator could be seen wearing a face mask in the photos and videos that emerged.
Some protesters also set alight rubbish bins along the Via Santa Lucia.
Firefighters attended the scene to try and put the fire off, but protesters blocked their vehicle, not allowing them to extinguish the flames.
The initial protests started at 11pm, when the curfew on hospitality settings started.
After the dramatic scenes, the crowd was dispersed, but according to Sky Tg24 there were still about 200 people in front of the Campania Region headquarters’ building.
At the end of the protest, protesters continued to chant against the new measures introduced to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Commenting on the riots, Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris told Italian TV channel RaiTre: “For us this is a day of bitterness.
“Via Santa Lucia is a street full of culture. Seeing the violence, the tear gas, is a defeat.
“Violence must always be condemned.”
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has said he wants to avoid a new national lockdown that would wreck the already fragile economy, but Italian law gives regional leaders leeway to establish their own curbs, and several regions are taking matters into their own hands.
The governor of Lombardy, which includes Italy’s financial capital Milan, said on Friday his region faced a “dramatic situation” and urged locals to respect a curfew that runs from 11pm to 5am, amongst other measures.
Lombardy, the epicentre of Italy’s initial outbreak, remains the hardest hit region, accounting for 4,916 of the new cases on Friday. Campania was the second-worst hit.
COVID-19 cases across the country have risen seven-fold since the start of the month, jumping to 19,143 on Friday and raising fears that the pandemic is spiralling out of control.
Fatalities totalled 91 on Friday, down from 136 the day before and far fewer than at the height of the first wave in March and April, when a daily peak of more than 900 deaths was reached.