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HEALTH

Easing Italy’s lockdown ‘is a risk we’re taking’: health minister

The Italian government's decision to allow travel between Italy's regions from June 3rd is not without risk as the coronavirus pandemic is still ongoing, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Monday.

Easing Italy's lockdown 'is a risk we're taking': health minister
Italy's Health Minister Roberto Speranza. File photo: AFP

“There is a risk and it would be wrong not to admit it,” Speranza told Rai, Italy's national broadcaster.

“It's clear that it is a risk we are taking, because zero risk does not exist at the moment and it will only exist when there is a vaccine.”

“Until then, it is a question of taking calculated risks and of trying to manage a different phase.”

Ahead of the further easing of restrictions on Wednesday,  some of Italy's top health experts have been questioning the accuracy of contagion data being released by regional governments during the reopening phase.

 
One independent report also warned that three northern regions were “not ready” to safely reopen.
 
 
 
As travel in Europe restarts, some countries, including Switzerland and Greece, are set to ban arrivals from Italy – or from certain Italian regions – amid ongoing concerns about the situation in the country.
 
However, the Italian government decided on Friday to press ahead with allowing interregional travel.

Speranza said it was “undeniable” that there were “differences in the situation” across the national territory, but “at the moment that the figures tell us that, while it is true that there are quantitative differences, the trend of all the regions is going in the right direction, is going down”.

He added that other countries are “not justified” in barring italians from entering “because the current situation in Italy is of a superior level than the average of other EU countries.”

“We had an extremely difficult emergency phase, and we were the first ones to take very tough decisions.”

Speranza has repeatedly warned that people must not let their guard down yet, and that “social distancing and precautionary measures will be crucial.”

“Woe betide us if we think we've won and everything is over,” he said.

Speranza last week warned that italy “must be ready” for a possible second wave of contagion.

 

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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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