'Stay home, idiot!': Neighbours turn on each other as Europe's coronavirus lockdown tensions rise

A man leaves the balcony of building during lockdown against the spread of coronavirus COVID-19, in Logrono northern Spain, Saturday, March 28, 2020.
A man leaves the balcony of building during lockdown against the spread of coronavirus COVID-19, in Logrono northern Spain, Saturday, March 28, 2020. Copyright Alvaro Barrientos/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
Copyright Alvaro Barrientos/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
By Lillo Montalto MonellaOrlando Crowcroft
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Meet the 'balcony police', enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown one obscenity at a time.


It was just a few days before his 58th birthday, and after almost a month in quarantine at his home in Rome, that choreographer Luciano Mattia Cannito finally snapped.

“Message to all the new sheriffs and warriors of the night that scream with hate from their balconies,” he wrote on his Facebook page, “why don’t you use that energy to give a word of comfort, positivity and love?”

A few days earlier his brother, a doctor in Toscana, had been on his way to work when someone had shouted: “Idiot! Stay at home!” from their balcony.

“My brother works 12 hours a day on the front line of this war - in the most dangerous place of all,” Cannito told Euronews.

Italy remains the worst-affected European country from coronavirus, with almost 14,000 deaths, and has the most stringent of the continent’s lockdowns, imposed on 8 March and barring residents from leaving their homes even to exercise.

Everyone looks at others as a potential danger.
Alice Miazzo
Milan resident

In recent weeks, videos of mayors in some Italian cities taking to the streets to berate citizens who are not at home went viral, while more than 40,000 people have been fined for violating the lockdown. But it isn’t only the police and authorities that are enforcing the rules.

Across Europe, ordinary citizens have appointed themselves as enforcers of the lockdown. In Spain they have even been given a name: ‘the balcony police’.

But the phenomena has spread across Europe.

Alice from London told Euronews that she was verbally abused on her residential street for letting her two-and-a-half year old daughter play on the pavement outside her house.

"We don't have a garden for her to play in, so we have to go out," she said. "It's not like she's a live germ bomb walking around diffusing the virus."

Police encouragement?

In Britain, at least six police forces have set up dedicated phone lines for people to report their neighbours. Of the six, only two were willing to comment on the phone lines - Greater Manchester and West Midlands police. Both refused to reveal the numbers of calls they had received.

But even in countries where the lockdown has been less stringent than elsewhere in Europe, members of the public have been overzealous in encouraging their neighbours to stay home.

'Absolute morons'

Jasmin Bauomy and her flatmate had spent three full days in their Hamburg apartment last Saturday when they decided it was time to get out of the house. They stuck to their neighbourhood, kept their distance and combined their walk with a grocery run.

As they walked, Bauomy was aware of shouting coming from a balcony above them.

“Look at you going out for a stroll while everyone is at home. You absolute morons,” the man ranted. “It’s because of you people are getting sick.”

Germany is not on full lockdown, and while people are staying at home they are permitted to leave the house for walks, runs and to visit the shops. As such, Bauomy wasn’t breaking any rules.

“He didn't want to hear an answer. He just wanted to yell at us without knowing the circumstances. To be honest, it kind of soured our entire run and our conversation kept reverting back to that moment,” she told Euronews.

Public figures are not immune

Not all of the civilian enforcement of the lockdown restrictions have come from balconies, in many cases it has been online. Natalie Bennett, the Green Party peer and former leader, was told by a stranger on Twitter that she "should be at home" after tweeting about her return from parliament.


But Bennett told Euronews that as society was under "tremendous stress", anxiety and fear were running rampant. As such, understanding is needed on both sides.

"I think we really need to focus on kindness, charity and understanding at the moment - and that means both for people thinking about commenting on the behaviour of others and those who are the subject of comments," she said.

For Alice Miazzo, 32 from Milan, the attitude of people on the street towards each other is a sign that Italians are looking for someone to blame for the crisis.

“I do not feel comfortable when I’m outside. When you are queueing to enter somewhere - like pharmacies or supermarkets, as nothing else is open, people stare at you, because you are supposed to stay home,” she said.

“On the one hand we are all together facing this emergency. But on the other, everyone looks at others as a potential danger or as a figure to blame for this sacrifice.”

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