Covid-19: Italy’s health minister warns public to follow rules with a ‘difficult 7-8 months ahead’

'We need to resist', Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Thursday, warning that safety rules must be followed until a vaccine is available.

Covid-19: Italy's health minister warns public to follow rules with a 'difficult 7-8 months ahead'
Italian health minister Roberto Speranza (L) arrives at Palazzo Chigi in Rome. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
Speranza called on the public to be patient with respect to the measures introduced to combat the spread of Covid-19.
“We need to resist, with the knife between our teeth, for the difficult next seven to eight months ahead,” Speranza told Italian journalists during a visit to the Sanofi plant near Rome, where the multinational is working on a potential vaccine.
“But while we resist, we must also look to the future.”
“The whole international community is at work on the vaccine and the hope is that we'll have good news in quite a short period of time.”
“In the months ahead, in which we do not have the Covid vaccine or cure, we will need correct behaviour from people,” he said, adding “that is what enabled us to bring down the curve in previous months”.
“The Italians, against every stereotype that we have had to deal with, have been the most orderly, loyal, and extraordinary country ever seen,” added the minister.
His words came after Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte confirmed on Thursday morning that the government plans to extend the current state of emergency until January 31st, 2021 – a year since it was first introduced.
Italy is on alert as cases continue to rise gradually, with spikes in the infection rate in some areas including the city of Naples. However, overall the numbers remain relatively low and stable compared to many other European countries.
Photo: AFP
Italian officials continue to recommend social distancing and frequent hand-washing, and there are strict rules on mask-wearing.
In Italy it remains mandatory to wear a mask outside between 6pm and 6am. The rule applies in all areas where there's a risk of crowding, like busy squares and streets lined with bars. Some regions such as Campania enforce mask-wearing in public 24 hours a day.

Police regularly patrol to enforce the rules and there are fines of up to €1,000 if you fail to comply.

Health authorities on Wednesday recorded 1,851 new cases in the last 24 hours, about 200 more than Tuesday's rise.
All regions recorded infections. Campania, once again, was worst hit with 287 new cases.
Hospitalisations continue to rise steadily, with 280 patients now in intensive care.
There were 19 deaths recorded on Wednesday, meaning the overall Italian death toll is now 35,894.
You can follow all of The Local's latest updates on the coronavirus situation in Italy here.

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Living in Italy: Five tips to help you survive the local pharmacy

From ear piercings to flu jabs, Italian ‘farmacie’ are among the most useful stores in the country, but they’re also very odd places. Here are our tips on getting through the pharmacy experience.

Living in Italy: Five tips to help you survive the local pharmacy

Italian pharmacies aren’t just stores selling prescription or over-the-counter medicines.

As a customer, you’ll find all sorts of natural remedies, basic health supplies and personal care items on their shelves. 

You’ll also be able to receive basic medical services (for instance, blood pressure checks, Covid tests and flu jabs) and some non-health-related ones (like getting your ears pierced!) in most branches. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I still get the flu vaccine in Italy? 

But, while being extremely useful stores, Italian farmacie (pronunciation available here) are also peculiar places and their set of unwritten rules and solidified traditions may well throw off newcomers.. 

So here are five tips that might help you complete your first expeditions to your local pharmacy without making a fool of yourself.

1 – Decipher your doctor’s scribbles before your trip

Much like some of their foreign colleagues, Italian GPs have a penchant for writing prescriptions that no one else is actually able to read. 

We might never find out why doctors seem so intent on making ancient hieroglyphs fashionable again, but their calligraphic efforts will surely get in the way of you trying to buy whatever medicine you need to survive. 

To avoid hiccups, make sure you know exactly what you need to get. If in doubt, reach out to your GP to confirm.

Don’t rely on pharmacists being able to figure out your doctor’s handwriting because they often have no clue either.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to make a doctor’s appointment in Italy 

Pharmacy in Codogno, near Milan

In most small towns and rural areas local pharmacies have very ‘thin’ opening hours. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

2 – Double-check the pharmacy’s opening times

If you’re from the UK or the US, you might be used to pharmacies being open from 8am to 10pm on weekdays and having slightly reduced opening times over the weekend. 

You can forget about that in Italy. In big cities, most pharmacies will shut no later than 8pm on weekdays and will be closed on either Saturdays or Sundays.

READ ALSO: Coughs, colds and flu: What to say and do if you fall sick in Italy 

As for small towns or villages, opening times will have a nice Middle Ages vibe to them, with local stores remaining shut on weekends and keeping their doors open from 9am to 12.30pm and then from 3.30pm to 7.30pm on weekdays. 

So always check your local pharmacy’s hours before leaving home and, should their times not be available online, call them up. An awkward phone conversation with the pharmacist is still preferable to a wasted trip.

3 – Get the ‘numerino

Some Italian pharmacies have a ticket-dispensing machine with the aim of regulating the queue – a concept which is still foreign to many across the country.

All customers are expected to get a numbered paper ticket (the famed ‘numerino’) from the above machine and wait for their number to be called to walk up to the pharmacist’s desk. 

Now, the law of the land categorically prohibits customers from getting within a five-metre radius of the desk without a numerino

Also, trying to break that rule may result in a number of disdainful sideways glances from local customers.

4 – You cannot escape the in-store conversations, so embrace them 

Pharmacies aren’t just stores. They’re a cornerstone of Italian life and locals do a good deal of socialising on the premises. 

After all, the waiting times are often a bit dispiriting, so how can you blame them for killing the time?

Small pharmacy in Italy

Pharmacies are an essential part of Italian life and culture. Photo by Marco SABADIN / AFP

You might think that locals won’t want to talk to you because you’re a foreigner or don’t know the language too well, but you’ll marvel at how chatty some are.

While chit-chat might not be your cup of tea, talking with locals might help you improve your Italian, so it’s worth a shot.

5 – “Vuoi scaricarlo?”

The pharmacist finally gets you what you need and you’re now thinking that your mission is over. Well, not yet.

Before charging you for the items in question, the pharmacist will ask you whether you’d like to ‘scaricarli’ (literally, ‘offload them’) or not, which, no matter how good your Italian is, will not make any sense to you.

What the pharmacist is actually asking you is whether you want to link the purchase to your codice fiscale (tax code). 

READ ALSO: Codice fiscale: How to get your Italian tax code (and why you need one)   

That’s because Italy offers residents a 19-percent discount on some health-related expenses, which can be claimed through one’s annual income declaration (dichiarazione dei redditi) by attaching the receipts of all the eligible payments.

Whether you want to scaricare or not, this is the last obstacle before you can make your way back home.