LOCKDOWN has been easing in Italy, but mask wearing is still compulsory outside the home. Customers have their temperature checked before entering shops. Police patrol open spaces in cars and on horseback to make sure people are wearing masks and adhering to social distancing rules.

Compare this to the UK, where thousands of people spent the weekend flocking to beaches and other open spaces, eating, drinking and sunbathing close together.

“It scares me when I see what’s happening in the UK. It seems you can do as you wish,” says Rino Grice, who lives in Milan with his young family. Rino and his wife, Veruska, have had to take documents with them every time they left their house in lockdown, so that if they’re stopped by police they can show they’re either going for a walk or to the shops. When Rino sat down with his children once, while out on a walk, he was told by police to move on and was threatened with arrest.

Lockdown has been relatively relaxed in the UK. And if footage of crowds gathering at beaches and beauty spots last weekend is anything to go by, you might wonder if it ever happened at all.

Even before the new guidelines came into place on Monday, thousands of people descended on our region’s beauty spots. With a seemingly casual disdain of social distancing rules, picnickers and sunbathers settled on the banks of the River Wharfe at Ilkley while others headed to the town’s Cow and Calf rocks. There have been reports of partying at Cottingley Woods, Judy Woods in Wyke and Goit Stock in Cullingworth.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said groups of up to six people can now meet outside (in England) as long as they observe social distancing. And vulnerable people who have been isolating since March can now spend time with other people outdoors.

But the new freedom must be treated with caution, warns England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Van-Tam who said the Government and the public have a “dual responsibility” to prevent a second wave of coronavirus.

There wasn’t much evidence of this “dual responsibility” at the district’s beauty spots over the weekend, where people were taking advantage of the warm weather. A police officer on duty near the Cow and Calf rocks car park told the T&A people had arrived from as far as Manchester and Sheffield. “I can’t understand why they would want to come to overcrowded places. There must be at least 15 footpath walks around here with very few people on them. Instead they crowd into one place,” he said. “We’re doing our best to educate them that they should observe social distancing but it’s not easy.”

Ilkley councillor Mike Gibbons was dismayed at the number of people visiting the town while lockdown restrictions were still in force. “They are not only endangering other people, but also themselves,” he said. “I know my council colleagues share the view that the dreadful parking makes the situation worse. The ability of emergency vehicles to try and pass this congestion endangers lives.”

Anna Hill, who lives in Ilkley, was sickened by the sight of sun-seekers flocking to the town at the weekend. “I couldn’t believe people could be so irresponsible. How can they even think of gathering so closely together after everything that’s been said about social distancing? My elderly parents have spent the past two months barely leaving their homes, unable to see their children or grandchildren. I’ve left their shopping on the doorstep, unable to visit or give them a hug. That is a huge sacrifice that many, many people have made across the country. And people like my niece, who’s a nurse, have risked their lives to work on the frontline during this pandemic.

“So it made my blood boil to see carloads of people heading out here. I watched them coming through the town, heading for the river and the rocks and it made me want to cry. Now I fear that because of their selfishness and stupidity we are probably in for a second wave of this virus.”

Rino, who is from Bradford and owns the Yorkshire Music School in Saltaire, has watched news footage of the weekend’s public gatherings in Ilkley. “I keep seeing pictures of the UK under lockdown and wonder what it actually means,” he says. “In Milan mask wearing is compulsory when outside your own home. Yesterday I went to a DIY store; before entering my temperature was checked and I was asked to clean my hands with sanitiser and to put on plastic gloves. In the store on every aisle was a notice as to how many people were allowed. I went to the supermarket and had to wait before I could enter as only so many people are allowed in. You can’t enter with your children, only one person at a time. Once inside your temperature is checked and you have to use sanitiser and gloves. Certain goods are limited to one per person.”

When Italy went into lockdown, nearly three months ago, it had an immediate impact on daily life. Lockdown is easing, but police checks are still in place. Travelling to a neighbouring town means a 300 euro fine. Walk more than 200 metres from your home and you risk being arrested.

“Leaving the house has been incredibly stressful. Even when restrictions were lifted a little, our walks were always interrupted by police, checking where we’re from,” says Rino. He is bemused by what he sees happening over here: “I was speaking to a friend in the UK who said there are no restrictions in entering supermarkets. I was also told the wines and spirits were depleted, and was told: ‘Do you think the English will let lockdown stop their bank holiday parties?’”