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HEALTH

How is Italy tackling coronavirus after the latest surge in cases?

After the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Italy top 2,000 and the death toll rises above 50, we look at the measures being taken to halt the spread.

How is Italy tackling coronavirus after the latest surge in cases?
Italian police man a roadblock outside one of the affected towns in Lombardy. Photo: AFP

NOTE: This article is now out of date. To read the latest news on the coronavirus in Italy CLICK HERE.

Italian health officials said on Monday they were “optimistic” that measures currently in place would be enough to contain the outbreak.

The number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Italy increased to over 2,000  on Monday night.

These numbers are changing constantly so you can view the latest figures here.

Government measures aimed at tackling the new coronavirus include the lockdown of several towns and closures of public spaces. More funding was also announced on Sunday for tackling the outbreak, as well as for helping businesses affected.

READ ALSO: How concerned should you be about the coronavirus outbreak in Italy?

The next seven days will be “decisive” in stopping the spread, said the head of Italy’s National Health Institute Silvio Brusaferro.

“At the end of the week we will understand if and how much the containment measures put in place have slowed the epidemic,” he told local media at a press conference on Monday.

“We expect positive results, I am optimistic. We ask all citizens for collaboration. Their help is important for breaking the chain of infections,”

He said the cases being confirmed now were likely to be people who were infected before the measures were put in place.

Researchers last week said the virus could have been “circulating for weeks” undetected in Italy.

Photo: AFP

Italy has carried out more than 21,000 swab tests for coronavirus so far, the Ansa news agency reports.

These blanket tests were deemed necessary as, unlike with cases in other European countries, Italy was unable to identify a “patient zero” at the beginning of the outbreak, making it difficult to trace people who may have been infected.

Here are the measures taken by authorities so far.

Which Italian cities are affected?

In the majority of Italian cities, including Rome and Florence, little has changed. For most residents life continues as normal.

Some northern cities, particularly Milan and Venice, have seen disruption since the outbreak began, with many schools, museums and other public buildings temporarily closed last week as a precaution.

Most cases are still concentrated in the regions of Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna but almost all of Italy's regions now reported cases of the virus.

Italy is now officially divided into three coronavirus zones.

One in Italy's north covers the worst-affected areas in two northern regions, Lombardy and Veneto, where a total of 11 small towns and 50,000 residents at the centre of the outbreak have been locked down.

Authorities have stopped people entering or leaving these areas without a permit. Travelling to these areas is not recommended, and may result in you being unable to leave for several weeks. However, these small areas are not located near major Italian cities or tourist attractions.

The second “yellow” zone contains Milan and the province of Lombardy, and also includes the
Veneto region of Venice and Bologna's Emilia-Romagna.

Schools and universities there will remain closed at least until the end of the week.

The surrounding ski resorts will stay open on the condition that the lifts are only operated at one-third capacity.

Major sporting and cultural events are being suspended and theatres, including Milan's grand La Scala opera house, remain closed. Milan's nightclubs are also shuttered.

The third zone covers the rest of the country.

In southern Italy, where only a handful of cases have been detected so far, life continues as usual.

MAP: Which parts of Italy are affected by coronavirus outbreak?

Are there any other travel restrictions?

There are currently no further travel restrictions in place in Italy, and no government has imposed a blanket ban on travel to the country although countries are advising residents against travelling to the worst-hit regions like Lombardy.

However the United States has issued a Level 3 travel warning for Italy, advising against all non-essential travel to the country due to “widespread community transmission” of Coronavirus. 

Airports and international borders remain open as usual.

If you're arriving in Italy by plane, expect to have your temperature checked upon arrival – either by thermal scanners or with a thermometer.

READ ALSO: Should I cancel my trip to Italy because of the coronavirus?

The Italian government has urged tourists not to abandon travel plans, stressing that most of the country currently remains unaffected by the outbreak.

“Out of over 7,000 towns in Italy, just over a dozen are affected by this epidemic,” stated Italy's foreign minister Luigi Di Maio on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

Are Italian schools closed?

Some Italian regions and municipalities chose to shut down schools as a precaution last week. Most schools in the country are now open.

In the three worst-affected regions – Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna – many schools are still closed as of Monday.

Which events have been shut down?

In many areas in northern Italy, public activities such as carnival celebrations, church masses and sporting events have been cancelled since the outbreak began.

And some major upcoming events including trade shows and Serie A football matches have been cancelled or postponed.

READ ALSO: The everyday precautions to take against coronavirus if you're in Italy

Sporting events and competitions “of all types and disciplines, in public or private places” are suspended in the regions of Emilia-Romagna, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont.

However, not every Italian region is currently cancelling events. (CLICK HERE for the full list of events affected.)

Find all The Local's coverage of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy here

 

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COVID-19 RULES

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

The new Italian government has announced the end of some remaining Covid health measures. Here's a look at what will - and won't - change.

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

Few Covid-related restrictions remain in Italy today, six months after the nationwide ‘state of emergency’ ended.

The previous government had kept only a handful of precautionary measures in place – which the new government, led by Giorgia Meloni, must now decide whether or not to keep.

The cabinet is holding a meeting on Monday and will issue a decree this week detailing any changes to the health measures.

Many expect the government to scrap all measures entirely by the end of the year, after Meloni and her party criticised the way Mario Draghi’s administration handled the pandemic throughout its tenure. 

Meloni clearly stated in her first address to parliament last Tuesday that “we will not replicate the model of the previous government” when it comes to managing Covid.

READ ALSO: Five key points from Meloni’s first speech as new Italian PM

While she acknowledged that Italy could be hit by another Covid wave, or another pandemic, she did not say how her government would deal with it.

Meanwhile, new health minister Orazio Schillaci issued a statement on Friday confirming the end of several existing measures, saying he “considers it appropriate to initiate a progressive return to normality in activities and behaviour”.

Workplace ban for unvaccinated medical staff

Schillaci confirmed that the ministry will allow doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to return to work after being suspended because they refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Those who refuse vaccination will be “reintegrated” into the workforce before the rule expires at the end of this year, as part of what the minister called a “gradual return to normality”.

They will be allowed to return “in light of the worrying shortage of medical and health personnel” and “considering the trend of Covid infections”, the statement said.

Fines issued to healthcare staff aged over 50 who refused vaccination would also be cancelled, it added.

There were some 1,579 doctors and dentists refusing vaccination at the end of October, representing 0.3 percent of all those registered with Italy’s National Federation of the Orders of Physicians, Surgeons and Dentists (Fnomceo) 

Daily Covid data reports

Schillaci also confirmed in the statement that the health ministry will no longer release daily updates on Covid-19 contagion rates, hospital cases and deaths, saying this would be replaced by a weekly update.

It said it would however make the data available at any time to relevant authorities.

Mask requirement in hospitals to stay?

The requirement to wear face masks in hospitals, care homes and other healthcare facilities expires on Monday, October 31st.

At a meeting on the same day the government is expected to decide whether to extend the measure.

READ ALSO: What can we expect from Italy’s new government?

While the government had looked at scrapping the requirement, it reportedly changed stance at the last minute on Monday after facing heavy criticism from health experts.

Media reports published while the meeting was in progress on Monday said government sources had indicated the measure would in fact be extended.

Confirmation is expected to come later on Monday.

Italy’s face mask rules in care homes and healthcare facilities are up for renewal. Photo by Thierry ZOCCOLAN / AFP

‘Green pass’ health certificate

There is no indication that the new government plans to bring back any requirements to show a ‘green pass’: the digital certificate proving vaccination against or recent recovery from Covid, or a negative test result.

The pass is currently only required for entry to healthcare facilities and care homes, and this is expected to remain the case.

‘Dismantling the measures’

Some of the confirmed changes were strongly criticised by Italy’s most prominent healthcare experts.

Head of the Gimbe association for evidence-based medicine, Nino Cartabellotta, said the focus on cancelling fines for unvaccinated healthcare workers was “irrelevant from a health point of view .. but unscientific and highly diseducative”.

He told news agency Ansa it was “absolutely legitimate” for a new government to discontinue the previous administration’s measures, but that this “must also be used to improve everything that the previous government was unable to do”.

The government should prioritise “more analytical collection of data on hospitalised patients, investments in ventilation systems for enclosed rooms … accelerating coverage with vaccine boosters,” he said.

However, the plan at the moment appeared to be “a mere dismantling of the measures in place,” he said, “in the illusory attempt to consign the pandemic to oblivion, ignoring the recommendations of the international public health authorities”.

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