COVID in Italy, When Defiance Turns Deadly

The privileged elite thumb their noses at the pandemic and party hard.

And this kind of defiance reared its head at a posh club on Sardegna’s Emerald Coast the first couple of weeks in August. Yes, just a month ago. Ferragosto is the peak of summer holiday celebrations in Italy. Even though the actual holiday is August 15, people flock to Italy’s shores and resorts starting the first of the month. You’d think that this year, with a pandemic still simmering, would be different. And, you’d think people who should know better would act prudently. But, I guess money and fame don’t always equal intelligence.

They jetted in from all over.

The string of months of behaving and wrestling COVID into a somewhat manageable submission probably had been just too much for people accustomed to getting what they want and doing what they want—when they want it. I get it, maintaining patience after all this time is tough business. We ALL want life to feel more normal. But, this kind of defiance of all known science and public advice? Geez.

Billionaire is a club for shakers and movers and owned by former Formula One team manager Flavio Briatore. This club is one of the top be-seen party spots for Italian celebs and international VIPs. And even though we’ve known for months that packed enclosed spaces without masks or social distancing are Petri dishes waiting to explode, the nightclub welcomed throngs of patrons and the partying was in full swing until mid-month. That’s when COVID cases were ticking upwards again and the Italian government, becoming progressively alarmed, ordered closure of all bars and nightclubs.

Flavio Briatore wasn’t happy.

I’d venture to say that the following says a lot about defiance (and a pretty big dose of entitlement):

“Briatore harshly criticised the Italian government in mid-August when it ordered the closure of all nightclubs. “This new decree was written by a madman,” he said at the time.”

From “Italy contacting visitors to Sardinian nightclub after Covid-19 cluster” — The Guardian (read the full article here).

Then, Flavio Briatore tested posted for COVID. Uh oh…

And so did a host of other club attendees.

“The long wave of the Covid Smeraldo seems to follow everyone: not only Berlusconi and Briatore, but also footballers like Mihajlovic and Pjanic and TV stars like Aida Yespica. In Lazio alone, 764 positives returned from Sardinia in August were counted.”

—Candida Morvillo for CORRIERE DELLA SERA (see the famous faces and read the story here (you may have to use Google translator)).

Yes, you read that correctly—Berlusconi, Italy’s former controversial PM who is on the verge of turning eighty-four and still stirring up stories. He was hospitalized briefly (though details are a closely kept secret) with COVID, and he’d been rubbing elbows with his buddy Briatore during those early days in August. When Berlusconi returned from Sardegna, he took a COVID test which came back negative. Again, negative, a few days later. Then, a test came back positive. Yep, some people can take up to two weeks to seroconvert. Meanwhile, they’re ripe for spreading it more widely.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to predict this kind of outcome.

Yet defiance prevailed. And I just can’t wrap my head around such stupidity (sorry, harsh, but true) and disregard for how their actions might affect others who have been being more prudent with behaviors not to put themselves and others at risk.

When power makes people feel invincible.

If you’re looking for a big cause of defiance, this is one. I still scratch my head at how many (certainly not all) people of privilege think they have something special that innoculates them to perils of being a common man. I’ve wanted to hurl something at the tv when I see a news story about a politician pointing out that this current epidemic is really more of a problem of immigrant communities and people of lower socioeconomic ranks (who usually don’t have the luxury of spacious living quarters–but that part is usually left out). Then there those with underlying medical conditions (like somehow those people have chosen to be that way?). Deflection sure seems to be the name of the game.

Defiance in the face of known science and regulations—when does it become criminal?

Sure, there are laws here in Italy. Like laws in Sardegna saying people had to dance two meters apart. Did that happen at Billionare? No, people crowded and danced, even on the speakers. And when they boarded their jets again, a good number of them carried COVID with them. What a nice souvenir to share with friends and family back home.

Is it any wonder that Italy’s new infection curve took a pronounced upward swing around August 20? Billionaire wasn’t the only party-hard venue rockin’ in early August.

And, yet, defiance of COVID remains strong.

 “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.”

I’d love to wear a tee-shirt with this emblazoned on the front. But I’m afraid I might be attacked or injured (at least with juicy Italian expletives).

By the way, the above quote is NOT from Albert Einstein, as usually attributed. Instead, it was traced back to novelist Rita Mae Brown and her 1983 book Sudden Death. (Read the Business Insider article about this and other misattributed quotes.)

A glimmer of hope and sanity?

Can I take heart that some diehard defiers of things like masks are setting ego and entitlement aside and respecting science? I’ve never been a fan of far right-wing and anti-EU populist Matteo Salvini, but FINALLY, he used the power of his political clout to encourage mask use.

“Wear a face mask and respect science. That’s the message from an unusual source — Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s League and hitherto a mask skeptic.”

–Politico, Jacop Barigazzi (Read the full article here)

I just wish that other world leaders, one in particular, would learn from lessons like Salvini. But, alas, I suspect that kind of backtracking is just too much of an ego risk for some people.

The “house” continues to burn.

We behave and reduce COVID to a low flame, i.e. a low curve. We pat ourselves on the back for achieving a below-1 RO (the average number of people who will catch the disease from a single infected person). Time to celebrate and return to normal? Yes, for too many people.

As long as defiance lives large, COVID will wreak havoc on our lives.

If I only I could use my voice through my blog to beg deniers to open their minds to reason. Leave politics and personal freedoms aside. But what politician is courageous enough to do the right thing yet risk the ire of their supporters, especially with an election so close?

I pray for open minds and regard for fellow world citizens.

Yet, sadly most people are fixed (and polarized). I did a little research about how people can be so doggedly married to beliefs without really testing them. We trust in assumptions about the way the world operates that seem so obviously true that we fail to test them (i.e. make the effort to do real research instead of just swallowing stories a newsfeed hook, line, and sinker.). In my search for some understanding in this regard, I came across How Your Brain Keeps You Believing Crap That Isn’t True.

“Information that’s easier to process is viewed positively in almost every way. Cognitive scientists refer to this ease as “processing fluency,” and it’s why your knowledge base is probably more full of flawed ideas than you’d like to believe.”

— Bob Nease, Fast Company

Is defiance easier than openness?

From the above quote and countless real life eamples, it sure seems that way. Maybe we don’t just have a pandemic of COVID, maybe we also have a pandemic of stubbornness.

I’m afraid that too many people are living for the vaccine that they’re being told is just around the corner. In the meantime, why can’t we all just suck it up and stick to practices that help protect us all? And when and will the privileged who deny and defy COVID wake up to the fact that no one is immune to this terrible disease?

By |2020-09-08T17:04:16+02:00September 7th, 2020|Healthcare in Italy, News in Italy|12 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!


  1. Robin September 10, 2020 at 8:20 pm - Reply

    Hey Jed,
    I am so glad you are posting about these very important topics with people’s behavior during the Coronavirus. We are so lucky to be in Umbria, with {mostly} total compliance. So sorry about other parts of Italy.
    I also appreciate the comment section, and how parts of America handle this, and also the freedom of travel.
    As an American, the US could have really benefitted from early intervention. I also think your perspective is really important. Hugs, R & M

    • Jed September 11, 2020 at 12:34 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much, Robin and Markus! Since I have a voice of influence through my blog, I’m trying to use it for good. If I can get through to just a few stubborn people to wake up, I’m happy! Bacioni!

  2. Barbara Brown September 9, 2020 at 3:25 pm - Reply

    Thank you Jed for another insightful post. The numbers in NY are good for now, but with schools reopening and university students back in the mix I wonder how long our good numbers will remain. As a fervent mask wearer and observer of all protocols I’m continually astonished at the nonchalance of some. I’m with you on the “talk me off the ledge”. Stay well.

    • Jed September 11, 2020 at 12:32 pm - Reply

      Prego, Barbara. I know that all of you in NYC are watching things closely as restaurants open up with important restrictions in place. I’m so glad to know that you are steadfast in protecting yourself. Let’s all do our best to keep one another sane and optimistic (well, as much as possible with the plethora of challenging news and behaviors!). Bacioni!

  3. Janelle Gistelli September 8, 2020 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    Hi, Jed-

    This is the same situation in Carmel-By-The-Sea…the holiday weekends are nuts…people from all over the state coming into town, many with attitudes of “I don’t have to wear a mask…there is no ‘law’ that says I have to”..In the meantime, we are waiting to get back to our place in Umbria. The cases in Monterey County keep going up. It’s making us crazy. As a small biz owner, I’m at odds with this whole idea of business before safety. We are being very careful, but others, especially tourists, are not. I feel your pain….

    • Jed September 8, 2020 at 7:06 pm - Reply

      Thanks for sharing your perspective and viewpoint, Janelle. Entitlement to perceived personal liberties with no appreciation for guidelines (I wish there were more laws regarding this) that are intended to address the greater good, not individual freedoms is endlessly frustrating. I’d imagine that if this was a virus so much more obviously horrendous instead of a “bad flu,” like so many people describe COVID, say Ebola, where you’re more than likely to die (and not pleasantly), people wouldn’t be so cavalier. How bad does it have to get?

  4. angela September 8, 2020 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    Pathetically sad and describes behavior in AZ too. Only the names vary but the behavior and polarization match. Stay well, Jed. Your blog is important.

    • Jed September 8, 2020 at 6:59 pm - Reply

      Yes, my friend. I am amazed at how people can effectively shut out inconvenient truths. Stay well, too, Angela.

  5. Patrizia September 8, 2020 at 2:23 pm - Reply

    BRAVO Jed! Thank you for this post! It is so frustrating, to say the least, for the egocentric behavior of folks. I have lost all patience and for my mental health I remain at home. Here in Cortona 99% of us Cortonese wear our masks and respect social distancing. Unfortunately, the town is swarming with unmasked tourists. Best to be happy at home! Be well, be safe. Love your blog ! Grazie.

    • Jed September 8, 2020 at 3:28 pm - Reply

      Grazie, Patrizia! Like you, I pretty much stay at home except for outings in situations in which I feel like I can protect my safety (and the safety of others). Brava to you and the Cortonese for acting responsibly! Keep the faith!

  6. Marina September 8, 2020 at 2:22 pm - Reply

    COVID exposes those egoists who don’t understand it is not about their right to be free but about them not to get others sick.

    • Jed September 8, 2020 at 3:27 pm - Reply

      Sad but true. I keep waiting for enough people to do the right thing and to talk me in off the ledge of feeling increasingly discouraged at how such self-centered (and country-centered) behavior is bringing the world to an everyman-for-himself of herself new paradigm. Let’s pray for people to wake up!

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. By continuing to use this website you consent to our cookie usage and privacy policy. Ok