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HEALTH

Covid-19: Italy considers ban on private parties as new cases rise sharply

Italy is on Monday preparing to introduce tougher-than-expected new restrictions nationwide, including a ban on gatherings at home, as the country's infection rate rises to levels last seen in March.

Covid-19: Italy considers ban on private parties as new cases rise sharply
Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

The italian government is meeting on Monday to finalise plans for a new emergency decree which is set to bring in much tougher restrctions than originally planned.

As The Local reported last week. ministers were supposed to vote on the planned new decree on October 7th but this was postponed. The government now has until Thursday October 15th to draw up the new regulations aimed at stopping the spread of the virus in Italy.

IN MAPS: Where and how coronavirus cases are rising in Italy

Italian media reports suggest the decree could be ready as soon as Monday evening, and measures are widely expected to be tougher than were originally included in a draft seen last week.

Health minister Roberto Speranza said on Sunday night that he had proposed a nationwide ban on parties, including on private property, saying this was needed to keep schools open due to the high number of transmissions between family members.

“Parties will not only be banned for kids, but for everyone,” he said on Italy's Rai TV channel. “We need to send a very clear message.”

While it is unclear how such a measure could be enforced, Speranza added: “When there is a rule, Italians have shown that they respect it and that they don't need a policeman to monitor them.”

“I'm convinced that the vast majority of people will follow the instructions contained in an emergency decree.”

The government is also believed to be debating a ban on amateur contact sports, including five-a-side football, reports Italian news agency Ansa.

City authorities in Rome also want to reduce hours for bars and restaurants.

Italian regional authorities can declare “red zones” or enforce local lockdowns under special powers granted due to the country's state of emergency.While ministers have said they do not believe a nationwide lockdown will be needed, regions and municipalities may choose to bring in localised lockdowns in response to spiking cases in the area.

The new measures are not yet confirmed.

The government's panel of scientific advisors (CTS) will meet on Monday to discuss the proposals, and if it gives the go-ahead the measures will be signed into law in the coming days.

The government hastily revised its draft of the new decree after the number of new cases being reported daily in Italy shot up over the end of last week.

Ministers also toughened rules making it obligatory to wear a mask whenever you leave your home, at all times of the day and in all parts of the country, and raised the fines for non-compliance to between €400 and €1,000.

Italy also added the UK to its list of countries from which travellers face mandatory testing on arrival.

Italy’s daily infections surpassed 5,000 in recent days for the first time since March.

The rate of contagion has “accelerated” in Italy over the past week and the nation's health services are starting to feel the strain, the ISS said on Friday.

The number of deaths and hospitalisations in Italy is also rising.

However the number of deaths linked to the virus remains far lower than at the peak of the outbreak in spring.

This is believed to be down to the fact that Italy is now testing widely as part of its prevention and control strategy. In March only suspected cases were tested, as the country struggled to deal with being the first western country hit by coronavirus.

 

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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.