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HEALTH

UPDATE: When and where do you need to wear a face mask in Italy?

Italian authorities are making the use of face masks mandatory on public transport and in stores as they gradually loosen lockdown measures, starting next Monday. Here's where and when you have to put on a mask. (Paywall Free)

UPDATE: When and where do you need to wear a face mask in Italy?
'Together, without fear': A public health notice in Naples. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

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Italian authorities are making the use of face masks mandatory on public transport and in stores as they gradually loosen lockdown measures, starting next Monday.

Face masks should be worn on the street in cases when it is hard to maintain a safe
distance from others, ISS public health institute director Silvio Brusaferro said.

But masks “must not give a false sense of security,” Brusaferro told reporters.

“It is an additional element, but personal hygiene and distancing are more important.”

Q&A: What are Italy's new rules on going outside in lockdown phase two?

Italy and other countries are now debating whether people should wear masks outdoors at all times – even while not in a confined space.

Italy's official death toll from the virus rose on Monday by 333 to 26,977 – the highest in Europe and second behind the United States.

What is the Italian government's advice on face masks?

The national government recommends following World Health Organisation guidelines on masks: only wear one if you know or suspect you have Covid-19, or are caring for someone who does. 

People with health conditions that make them vulnerable to infection, such as HIV patients or people undergoing chemotherapy, are also advised to wear masks.

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

“Use of the face mask can help to limit the spread of the virus, but should be combined with other respiratory and hand hygiene measures,” the Ministry of Health's official advice states. 

“In fact, it is possible that the use of face masks may even increase the risk of infection due to a false sense of security and increased contact between hands, mouth and eyes.”

The Italian government has warned against wearing masks unnecessarily or putting on several at once, stating that: “The rational use of medical masks is important to avoid unnecessary wastage of precious resources.”

What do other countries think?

The WHO acknowledges that there is an “ongoing debate” about wearing face masks. Many experts argue that wearing masks as a precaution can help prevent the coronavirus spreading before people realise they're ill.

Americans are now being encouraged to wear a face mask anytime they go outside, while French and German public health bodies say wearing a mask even if you don't have symptoms could reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others.

Masks are already compulsory in parts of Germanyparts of France and throughout the Czech Republic and Slovenia, and anyone going into a supermarket in Austria has to wear one. 

READ ALSO: Coronavirus and face masks: How countries have shifted their advice to the public


Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

In practice, most police officers, shop assistants, delivery people and other key workers in contact with the public in Italy wear face masks while they're on duty.

Aren't face masks already compulsory in parts of Italy?

Yes: people in Lombardy, the region at the epicentre of Italy's coronavirus pandemic, must now cover their face in public as part of the latest regional quarantine measures.

A decree signed on April 4 stated that anyone leaving their own home must wear a face mask or, if they do not have one, cover their nose and mouth with a scarf.

As part of the same decree, all shops must also hand out disposable gloves and hand sanitizer to customers.

Some 300,000 masks will be distributed free by pharmacies, the regional government said, with priority given to people in high-risk categories.

READ ALSO: Why the coronavirus quarantine rules aren't always the same around Italy

Tuscany is alos making face masks compulsory. Regional president Enrico Rossi, who said that 10 million masks are being distributed throughout the region for free – nearly three for every resident.

The rule will go into effect once each municipality confirms that it has delivered the masks to people's homes, Rossi announced on April 5.

And as of April 13 face masks are also mandatory in Veneto, along with gloves or hand sanitizer.

The region had previously required them in supermarkets and on public transport, but has now made them compulsory for any outings in public.

Are there any other rules about wearing face masks in Italy?

Several other regions require people to wear face masks in certain public places.

In Friuli Venezia Giulia and Valle d'Aosta, it is mandatory for both staff and customers to wear face masks (or cover nose and mouth with a scarf) in supermarkets and other shops.

The province of Alto Adige (South Tyrol) has urged people to cover their face anytime they come into contact with others, calling it a “civic duty”. All shop staff must wear masks, which employers can request for free from the regional health authorities.

READ ALSO: 'We're stressed out': Supermarket workers in Italy fear exposure to coronavirus


Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Authorities in Liguria say they're working to distribute free face masks to residents, who have struggled to find supplies. Masks could be required once everyone has one, said regional president Giovanni Toti.

Meanwhile some Italian supermarket chains, including A&O, have been telling customers not to enter without a mask.

How should I put on and take off a face mask?

The Italian Ministry of Health recommends the following steps:

  • Before putting on the mask, wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with the mask ensuring that it is intact and it fits snugly to your face.
  • Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, wash your hands.
  • When the mask becomes damp, replace it with a new one and do not reuse it, since disposable masks should be used once only.
  • Remove the mask by handling the elastic band only, without touching the front of the mask; discard immediately in a closed bin and wash your hands.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus in Italy: The phone numbers and websites you need to know about

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ENVIRONMENT

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy

The northern cities of Milan and Turin were named Italy's 'smog capitals' in a new pollution report on Monday which urged the government to take action over poor air quality.

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy
Photo: Pixabay

Smog and pollution are choking Italian cities year-round and many towns are exceeding limits on fine particles and other pollution, according to another report from Italian environmental watchdog Legambiente.

The Mal’aria di città (Air pollution in the city) report for 2023, unveiled on Monday, was the latest to warn about the risks to health posed by pollution in many parts of the country.

It found that 25 of 95 cities monitored had violated clean air ordinances by exceeding daily fine particle (PM10) emission limits, which are currently set at no more than 35 days a year with a daily average of over 50 micrograms per cubic metre.

Turin was ranked as the worst offender, exceeding this level on 90 days, closely followed by Milan (84), Asti (79), Modena (75), and Padua and Venice at 70.

These were followed by Cremona, Treviso, Mantua and Rovigo, all of which exceeded limits to a lesser degree.

All of the most polluted cities were in the northern Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto, with most within the north-western ‘industrial triangle’.

Some southern cities featured nearer the bottom of the ranking, with Andria (Puglia) and Ragusa (Sicily) exceeding limits on several days, as well as Rome, which overshot the permitted level for one day.

(Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The average annual rate of PM10 emissions nationwide dropped slightly, by two percent year-on-year, the report found.

“This, however, is not enough to guarantee the health of citizens,” said Stefano Ciafani, president of Legambiente.

He pointed out that the situation looked even worse if air quality in Italian cities were measured against tighter limits under the new European Directive on air quality, in force from 2030, which lowers the PM10 threshold from 35 to 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

“Only 23 out of 96 cities (24 percent) would be under these limits,” Ciafani said, while 84 percent would exceed the threshold for PM2.5 and 61 percent for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Italy has repeatedly been reprimanded by the European Union over air quality, and has “persistently and systematically” breached EU recommended limits, the European Court of Justice ruled in 2020.

The north of Italy has long been ranked among the worst areas in Europe for polluted air according to data from the European Environment Agency.

“Air pollution is not only an environmental problem, but also a health problem of great importance,” said Ciafani. “In Europe, it’s the main cause of premature death due to environmental factors.”

“Italy has more than 52,000 deaths per year caused by PM2.5 emissions, equal to a fifth of those recorded throughout the continent,” he said.

The main causes of air pollution in Italian cities are reported to be industry, inefficient domestic heating systems, agricultural practices and, most of all, heavy traffic.

In Italy, cars continue to be by far the most-used means of transport. 65.3 percent of journeys overall are made by car, Legambiante wrote, with the emissions from some 38 million cars choking Italy’s towns and cities.

(Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

Legambiente said “drastic” measures were required to tackle the problem, including funds for more efficient heating systems in homes and public buildings and a major increase in public transport provision.

The group said Italy must “quadruple the availability of public transit, promoting integrated season tickets as done by Germany in 2022”, triple the number of electric buses, create zero-emission zones in town centres, and “create another 16,000 kilometres of cycle paths”.

It also praised local authorities choosing to bring in 30 km/h speed limits in city centres. Councils in Bologna, Turin, Milan and Cesena have all said they plan to implement these limits, following the lead of European cities including Paris and Madrid, despite fierce criticism from Italian transport minister Matteo Salvini.

Legambiente published a petition urging the government to make clean air and more livable cities a priority, saying Italy should follow Paris in attempting to create ’15-minute cities’, in which everyone lives within a quarter of an hour’s walk of vital amenities such as shops and schools and possibly also workplaces.