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Coronavirus Deniers and Lockdown Critics Protest in Rome

Αssociated Press

Members of the Orange Vests movement, demanding an end to the current government and COVID-19 restrictions, gather to protest in Rome, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

ROME — Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered in Rome shunning masks to protest against the Italian government's measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Members of a marginal political movement created last year by a retired Carabinieri general have emerged as a virus-denial camp in Italy, the first Western country to be hit by the global pandemic.

The leader of the so-called Orange Vests told the protest crowd assembled in the Piazza del Popolo on Tuesday that children shouldn’t be made to wear masks and he threatened to ‘’slap’’ anyone who did.

Antonio Pappalardo added that he refuses to wear a mask himself and said: ‘’These lungs mine. I will take care of my lungs. Breathing is sacred.’’

The people packing the square didn't adhere to social-distancing guidelines set by the government.

Pappalardo portrayed such containment measures as an infringement of freedom. Other speakers at the protest asserted that the pandemic ‘’never existed’’ and alleged that politicians had played it up to enhance their own powers.

Italy went into a nationwide lockdown in early March. The country enters a new phase in emerging from the virus emergency with the opening of regional and external borders on Wednesday.