‘A different kind of Christmas’: What will be in Italy’s new coronavirus emergency decree?

Italy's new set of coronavirus restrictions is set to come in by Friday December 4th and will cover the festive season. Here's what we know so far.

'A different kind of Christmas': What will be in Italy's new coronavirus emergency decree?
Christmas lights in Milan's "Quadrilatero della Moda" shopping district. Photo: AFP

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Italian government ministers and regional heads are still trying to reach an agreement on Thursday on proposals for coronavirus measures over the festive season.

A new emergency decree – formally called a DPCM (Decreto del presidente del consiglio, or 'prime minister's decree') – containing rules covering the next month, including the Christmas period, is due by Friday, December 4th.

Government officials had been expected to announce the contents of the latest decree before Thursday December 3rd, when the current decree expires.

A draft text of the new DPCM has been circulated to regional governments on Thursday morning and will need to be debated, and very likely amended, before being signed.

The next DPCM will remain in place until after Epiphany on January 6th, ministers said on Wednesday, though no firm date has been announced yet.

The government has said that the 10pm curfew throughout Italy will remain in place, and that restaurants must stay closed in orange and red zones.

Photo: AFP

Ministers are set to announce whether non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen in red zones under the new decree, and whether restrictions will be placed on holiday resorts and international travel.

Ministers have repeatedly stressed that rules must remain in place amid fears that holiday celebrations could trigger a third wave of infections.

“With the next emergency decree we must continue with serious and rigorous measures,” said health minister Roberto Speranza in an address to parliament on Wednesday.

“We still need a few weeks of sacrifices,” he said. “The (contagion) wave is still high, and our navigation remains difficult. Let us not be under any illusions.”

He echoed the words of prime miister Giuseppe Conte, who said on Italian television last week: “It will be a different kind of Christmas, sacrifices are still necessary in order not to expose ourselves to a third wave in January with a high number of deaths”, 

Travel restrictions

One thing we do already know for sure is that travel will be restricted over the Christmas period.

Ahead of the full set of measures, the government on Wednesday night separately approved a decree law prohibiting non-essential travel between regions from December 21st-January 6th.

Photo: AFP

The rules will be even stricter on Christmas Day itself, with a ban on travelling between towns and comunes in place on December 25-26th, and on New Year's Day, as the government seeks to avoid a third wave of coronavirus infections being triggered by socialising over the festive period.

This will include restrictions on visiting second homes, though returning to your home or place of residence will remain a valid reason for travel. See more details on the restrictions in a separate report here.

The government is also expected to introduce a 10-day quarantine for those arriving in Italy from foreign countries, beginning on December 20th.

Christmas dinner

The big question many in Italy are asking is whether or not the cenone (literally “big dinner”) can go ahead this Christmas – and, if so, how many family members they can invite.
While no legal limit is likely to be set, the goverment continues to recommend avoiding all gatherings.
“This Christmas we must plan to be as few as possible,” said Undersecretary for Health Sandra Zampa on Monday.
The draft decree includes the “strong recommendation” to avoid hosting anyone you don't live with.
While the government recommends that people avoid any kind of gathering at home, these are likely to remain recommendations, not laws – meaning the police won't come knocking if you do have a party.
“A free and democratic state cannot enter homes and say how many people can sit at the table,” said Conte on Tuesday. “There will be limitations on social occasions in general”.

The 'rule of six' recommendation is expected to remain in place.
Bars, restaurants and events
Will you be able to take a break from cooking at home over Christmas? Or meet friends for the typical New Year's Day lunchtime aperitivo?
So far, it looks like this will depend on which tier your region is in by then.
Bars and restaurants are currently closed in red and orange zones, while they can stay open until 6pm in yellow zones. The draft text of the new decree keeps these rules in place.
In yellow zones, where eateries are open but required to shut at 6pm, the government is debating whether to allow restaurants to serve lunch on
Christmas Day and December 26th.
The new rules will allow “a maximum of four people per table, unless they are all living together”, according to the draft decree.

Hotel restaurants may have to close entirely on New Year's Eve, reports Ansa.
New Year's Eve parties are unlikely to happen this year in streets and squares, as the government says it will keep a ban on gatherings in place.
“Gatherings and parties in squares will not be allowed,” Health ministry undersecretary Zampa said.
“The holidays will be adequately regulated and, unlike during this summer, there will be no exceptions. We cannot risk a third wave.”

Evening curfew and midnight mass
While churches are allowed to remain open even in red zones, the nationwide 10pm curfew would prevent people from attending the traditional Catholic midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Catholic church leaders have said they'll change the times of services to comply with rules.
According to the draft version of the decree published on Thursday, the curfew is set to remain in place, including over the holidays – and will be extended from 10pm-5am to 10pm-7am on New Year's Day.
Photo: AFP

Christmas shopping

Over the holidays shops will have to close at 9pm and shopping centres are to remain closed at weekends under rules laid out in the draft text of the new decree.

All non-essential shops are currently closed in Italy's red zones, and it's not yet clear whether they may be allowed to reopen.

Ski holidays
While Italian resorts would usually be preparing to open to snow tourists in early December, things don't look promising for Italy's multi-billion-euro ski industry.
The draft decree text states that slopes may reopen on January 7th.
“The lifts in ski areas are closed; they can only be used by professional and non-professional athletes,” states the draft text.
The goverment is resisting pressure to open ski resorts from local authortiies in northern regions along the Italian Alps, many of which are currently red or orange zones.
The Italian and German governments are pushing for a ban on ski holidays across Europe over Christmas, amid fears resorts could become a major source of coronavirus infections.

“It will be necessary to avoid potential gatherings in places of tourist attraction linked in particular to skiing activities,” Health minister Roberto Speranza told parliament on Wednesday.

He added that international travel over the festive season “should be discouraged”.

See the Italian health ministry's website for more information on the current public health measures.

Photo: AFP

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”