The story hit UK headlines during the weekend after Italy's La Repubblica newspaper claimed the Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been among travelers who landed at Perugia international airport in recent days or weeks. The city is located in the central part of Italy.
The paper quoted a September 17 statement by the airport which said it prides itself on receiving a host of foreign celebrities and dignitaries, who were choosing the aerodrome because of “the speed of connection and the always punctual and efficient service."
According to La Repubblica, an airport spokesman separately confirmed that "Johnson and [former British PM Tony] Blair were here in Perugia last week." An unnamed airport worker confirmed the sitting premier had landed there "on Friday September 11 or Thursday September 10," adding he doesn't remember the exact date.
The allegations immediately caused quite a stir online, with users pointing out Johnson would have been traveling internationally at a time when most Brits are locked at home by quarantine restrictions. Johnson himself contracted coronavirus earlier this year, but managed to recover, owing much to the professionalism of healthcare staff.
Some were convinced Perugia officials had no reason whatsoever to lie about Johnson traveling to Italy.
— Vittoria Gallagher (@Vitt2tsnoc) September 21, 2020
Hotheads went as far as to demand that Downing Street confirm or deny the bombshell allegation and, if it turns out to be true, the PM should step down, "no ifs and buts." If he indeed traveled to Italy, "this must be the end of him," suggested Jennifer Cassidy, an Oxford scholar.
The government stepped into the debate a bit later, with a Number 10 spokesman telling the press the story "is completely untrue." The prime minister "has not travelled to Italy in recent months," the official informed reporters, and "anyone who publishes these claims is repeating a falsehood."
As the mystery deepened, another report suggested the PM and his fiancee Carrie Symonds were secretly baptizing their son Wilfred on Saturday, September 12 – when he is alleged to have been in Perugia. An ITV journalist said he was told the christening could be confirmed with a member of the clergy.
That theory didn't play well with online pundits either. Some questioned the credibility of the alibi, saying, "traditionally, if you're asked your whereabouts on a particular day, you don't provide your whereabouts the following day, no?"
What's more, Johnson himself appears to have frequented Perugia in recent years. In 2018, while he was UK foreign secretary, he was photographed at the city's San Francesco d'Assisi Airport during a seemingly undercover visit to the ancient city. The image of a disheveled traveler made the rounds online at the time, with passengers reportedly describing him as looking "like he slept in his clothes."