Police tighten quarantine controls over Easter as Italians lower their guard

People in Italy have been warned that they must continue to follow quarantine rules amid fears that large numbers may attempt to travel over the Easter weekend.

Police tighten quarantine controls over Easter as Italians lower their guard
Italian police check drivers' paperwork in central Rome on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

Police in Italy are now tightening controls and increasing checks ahead of the Easter weekends,  with officials concerned that the slowing rate of infections and warmer weather will tempt Italians to flout the rules.

Cities includng Milan will increase the number of roadblocks in place this weekend, enforcing a travel ban preventing people from visiting relatives out of town or spending the Easter holiday at their second home.

UPDATED: What are Italy's coronavirus quarantine rules?

In the northern Lombardy region, hardest-hit by the coronavirus outbreak, traffic was up over 10 percent compared to a week ago. Local authorities described that as “alarming”.

Milan's mayor Beppe Sala said road blocks would be increased as a result.

Many local authorities around Italy have ordered supermarkets to close over the weekend, fearing crowds of shoppers will descend during the holidays.

Photo: AFP

Officials there fear a new wave of contagion could be triggered if people flout the rules, which include a total ban on leaving the house except to shop for essential food or medicine, or for work.

Travel between towns is only allowed for work or health reasons, or in emergency situations.

Police have been carrying ot a higher number of checks this week, with those found to be breaking the rules or making false declarations on their self-certification forms liable to be charged and fined up to 3,000 euros – or more in some regions.

The most serious offenders can even face lengthy prison terms.

While fewer new deaths and cases are being reported, the numbers remain high and officials have repeatedly warned the public not to let their guard down and to continue to follow quarantine rules.

Health officials warned this week that the outbreak appears to have peaked in some areas only because of the various closures and bans, which they insist must remain in place – perhaps until a vaccine is developed or some reliable tests can show who has immunity against the new disease.

“The numbers are less alarming, which should be of comfort but shouldn't make us lower our guard because this data is still alarming,” said Luca Richeldi, a pulmonology specialist on the government's Technical and Scientific Committee (CTS).

One month since the nationwide measures were announced, the government is looking at “Phase 2”

plans for gradually easing the lockdown – but the restrictions on movement are expected to remain in place for a long time yet.

READ ALSO: 'A summer without travel': How long will Italy's coronavirus lockdown 'phase two' last?

Leading Italian health expert Nino Cartabellotta said on Wednesday that for potentially looser measures to be implemented under “phase two” of quarantine, the increase in new cases would need to drop to below one percent.

Wednesday's increase in cases was 2.8 percent.

“The health and economic effects of a new rising curve would be disastrous,” he said.

The head of WHO Europe had the same message in a news conference on Wednesday.

“Now is not the time to relax measures,” said WHO regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge.

“It is the time to once again double and triple our collective efforts to drive towards suppression with the whole support of society.”

While fewer new deaths and cases are being reported, the numbers remain high and officials have repeatedly warned the public not to let their guard down and to continue to follow quarantine rules.

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Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”