Mr Johnson had told MPs this week that Britain was a ‘freedom-loving country’ when asked why lower Covid-19 infection rates can be found in Italy and Germany.
But the Prime Minister’s remarks on Tuesday sparked ridicule and outrage abroad, where lower infection rates are more likely to be attributed to a functioning testing and traceability system.
The Italian news agency ANSA reports that Sergio Mattarella, the country’s president, said: “We Italians also love freedom, but we also care about seriousness.”
He was questioned about the Prime Minister’s comments during a visit to Sardinia.
The British Prime Minister’s remarks, which appeared to link the best Covid-19 response in Italy and Germany to their history of totalitarianism, sparked debate in Italy.
A commentator for the Corriere della Sera newspaper wrote on Thursday: “In short, if we put on masks here more than in London, it’s because we had Mussolini and not Churchill.”
Italy, which was hit the earliest in the coronavirus outbreak, has seen cases increase in recent weeks, but has so far managed to avert a new wave of infections.
The UK has the highest official death toll from Covid-19 in Europe, with 41,862. Italy is the second worst affected country with 35,758 recorded deaths.