They only wanted to enjoy themselves on the sunny Sardinian coast last summer after a tough two-month lockdown. But instead, young Italians who had frequented nightclubs returned home either with Covid-19 or laden with feelings of guilt, regret or anger at the authorities.
One holidaymaker, Martina, returning from a break on the island, wrote in a letter published by Corriere della Sera in late August 2020: “For the sake of an evening at a nightclub, I infected my entire family. My dad is fighting for his life.”
Francesco, a 21-year-old from Rome who also caught the coronavirus after clubbing in Sardinia, told Il Giornale: “They told us we could go to clubs and all we needed to do was wear a face mask. We followed the rules … it’s obvious that us 20-somethings couldn’t wait for our social lives to return. But please don’t blame us if infections are rising.”
Nightclubs were also a key factor in last year’s big coronavirus outbreak at the Austrian ski resort of Ischgl.
A few months later there was an outbreak linked to the nightclub district in Seoul, sparking condemnation against gay clubbers.
More recently, Bangkok authorities closed 196 nightlife venues amid a coronavirus resurgence.
Yet while some governments have hesitated over reopening clubs, others have allowed such venues to fling open their doors. In the UK, where new Covid infections have reached an average of about 50,000 a day, nightclubs reopened on Monday for the first time in 17 months.
People visiting clubs in England are not obliged by law to wear face coverings or to maintain social distancing, despite a study early in June showing that nearly three-quarters of coronavirus cases among University of Cambridge students last autumn were traced to a single nightclub.
Although Boris Johnson’s government is now planning to ban people from entering nightclubs or other venues with large crowds unless they are fully vaccinated, the measure will not take effect for another two months, at the end of September.
In Italy, spooked by outbreaks last summer believed to have contributed to the country’s Covid-19 second wave, which started in early autumn 2020, the government is expected to announce a reopening date this week but with the requirement for clubbers to be fully vaccinated.
Although nightclub outbreaks were just as severe in other Italian holiday hotspots, Sardinia, which until August had been relatively Covid-free, came under the spotlight due to the contagion that occurred at Billionaire, the venue on the Costa Smeralda owned by the former Formula One boss Flavio Briatore. The nightclub now faces charges of “epidemic negligence”.
Briatore was admitted to hospital in Milan in late August after becoming infected, as was his friend Silvio Berlusconi, a former Italian prime minister. Berlusconi was confirmed to have the coronavirus in early September, shortly after returning from his villa on the Costa Smeralda. The 84-year-old had been pictured with Briatore outside his Sardinia holiday home; neither was wearing face masks.
Covid-19 infections among footballers, celebrities and other clubbers were also traced back to Billionaire. Two other Sardinia nightclubs, Phi Beach and Country Club, have been accused of negligence after failing to properly protect staff.
Walter Ricciardi, a scientific adviser to the Italian health ministry, said this July that nightclubs were “particularly dangerous environments” for spreading the virus. “It only takes a few seconds to become infected. Discos should only open under very strict controls with access allowed only to those who are vaccinated, who have already had Covid-19, or who present a negative test.”
But after last summer, some young Italians are not so desperate to rush back to nightclubs.
“It’s made me really afraid,” said Francesco, who, with his girlfriend, tested positive after a holiday in Sardinia. “We only went to outside bars [on the Costa Smeralda] and I’m not entirely sure how we got coronavirus, as the friends we were with didn’t get it. But one thing is for sure – I’m avoiding nightlife venues.”