ROME (AP) — Thousands of Napoli soccer fans who poured into the streets to celebrate their team’s Italian Cup title without social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic were criticized by health officials as being “reckless.”
World Health Organization assistant director general Ranieri Guerra said the scenes reminded him of Atalanta’s Champions League game with Valencia in February. That match, which has been labeled “Game Zero” by local media, is believed to have been a key factor in why the virus has been so deadly in the northern city of Bergamo.
“Reckless,” Guerra said. “Right now we can’t permit these things.”
Deputy Health Minister Sandra Zampa added that it amounted to “dangerous behavior.”
Shortly after Napoli beat Juventus in an empty stadium in Rome on Wednesday night for the team’s first title in six years, supporters in Naples flooded into central piazzas and set off fireworks as they celebrated into the early hours of Thursday morning. Hardly any of them were seen wearing masks.
While nearly 35,000 people have died in Italy from the coronavirus, the Campania region that includes Naples has accounted for 431 deaths.
Naples Mayor Luigi De Magistris called the criticism “hypocritical.”
“Either the games shouldn’t have been played until September or in some way what happened the other night was inevitable,” De Magistris said.
“Only people who don’t know Naples could think that after a victory over the Juventus of (Maurizio) Sarri and (Gonzalo) Higuain that Neapolitans would remain at home to celebrate,” the mayor added, referring to the former Napoli coach and striker who are now both with the club’s biggest rival. “But that doesn’t mean people in the city are taking the virus lightly, because since about the start of June the contagion level in Naples has been zero.”
De Magistris added that his only criticism for fans was for jumping into historic fountains.
Napoli supporters also crowded into the city’s main rail station overnight to welcome back the team — forcing the squad to get off at a secondary station.
After a three-month break because of the pandemic, Italian soccer was given the go-ahead by the government to restart last week with the Italian Cup semifinals. Serie A, the nation’s top soccer league, is set to resume Saturday.
While games are scheduled to be played in empty stadiums, De Magistris joined soccer officials in calling for some fans to be allowed in with appropriate social distancing.
But Franco Locatelli, a pediatric oncologist at Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome who is one of the more prominent members of the scientific-technical committee advising the Italian government about COVID-19 containment measures, said this week that “it’s too soon (to say) it’s safe to bring fans” back to the stadiums.
“We’re still in a phase in which the virus is circulating,” Locatelli said.
Associated Press writer Frances D’Emilio contributed to this report.
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