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HEALTH

Covid-19: Zone changes for nine Italian regions as transmission rate falls

Local restrictions are set to change in several Italian regions this weekend after health officials confirmed on Friday that the situation is improving in many areas.

Covid-19: Zone changes for nine Italian regions as transmission rate falls
Italian ministers have said they hope most, if not all, Italian regions will be classified as 'yellow' before Christmas. Photo: AFP

Italy's health ministry announced the latest changes to the tiered system of coronavirus rules in a press conference on Friday evening.

The red-zone regions of Campania, Tuscany, Valle D'Aosta and the autonomous province of Bolzano will become orange zones.

Orange zones Emilia Romagna, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Marche, Puglia and Umbria will turn yellow.

Italian health minister Roberto Speranza will sign an ordinance on Friday night, and the changes will come into effect from Sunday December 6th.

The ordinance will also renew the current measures in Abruzzo, Basilicata, Calabria, Lombardy and Piedmont. 

The classificatons are made based on the coronavirus situaton locally according to a weekly analysis of each region's weekly health data by the health ministry together with the Higher Health Institure (ISS).

People in the highest-risk zones are told to stay within their comune, or municipality, and are only allowed to leave for work, study, health or other essential reasons.

The data released on Friday showed tha overall the Rt (transmission rate) has now dropped between the critical number of 1 in 16 Italian regions.
 
The figures, which relate to the period of November 11-24th, showed that the average Rt index calculated on symptomatic cases was equal to 0.91.

EXPLAINED: How Italy decides which regions are Covid-19 red zones

GRAPHS: Track the spread of coronavirus in every region of Italy

ANALYSIS: Has Italy's coronavirus second wave peaked?

This week, the data showed a another decrease in the incidence of Covid cases overall nationwide over the last 14 days.

These data “are encouraging and confirm the effects of the (government's anti-coronavirus) measures,” the ISS weekly monitoring report stated, however it noted that “the pressure on hospital services is still very high”.

On December 1st, 18 regions reported having exceeded critical thresholds in hospitals or intensive care units, the report said.

“In five weeks we went from a very worrying Rt number of 1.7 to a figure of 0.91,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza told Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore on Friday evening. “This does not mean a narrow escape, but it means that the measures have produced effects.”

“The objective of the government and the regions was to go below 1, we finally succeeded, but there is still a very difficult game in progress”.

The announcement of the latest changes to the tier system came a day after the government announced a new set of restrictions under the latest emergency decree, which is in force from December 4th to January 15th.

It included further travel restrictions throughout December, as the government aims to discourage trips, gatherings and parties over the festive period.

TIMELINE: How Italy's coronavirus rules get stricter towards Christmas

 

Under its latest emergency decree, the Italian government will require EU citizens to take a coronavirus test before travelling to Italy between December 10th-20th.

From December 21st everyone arriving in Italy during the Christmas period from overseas, including returning citizens and residents, to quarantine for 14 days.

The government also announced a ban on travel between regions over Christmas, and a ban on moving between towns on December 25th and 26th and January 1st.

These rules will apply nationwide, regardless of an area's classification under the tiered system.

Find all of The Local's latest coronavirus updates here.

 

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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.