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CHRISTMAS

EXPLAINED: Is Italy really about to cancel its Christmas Day travel ban?

A week after Italy announced a ban on movement between towns on key dates over the Christmas holidays, the rules are now being reconsidered. But are they really going to be relaxed?

EXPLAINED: Is Italy really about to cancel its Christmas Day travel ban?
The rules on exactly how far you'll be allowed to travel within Italy this Christmas are still up for debate. AFP
Italy's government last week announced a complete ban on non-essential travel between towns on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day, a rule it hopes could help prevent a new spike in coronavirus infections being triggered by socialising over the holidays.
 
The government introduced a raft of travel restrictions over the holidays as it tried to hammer its message home about limiting travel and skipping the big parties over this particular festive season.
 
 
In a country where family gatherings can be particularly large and frequent, the government has refrained from setting rules about how many people you can invite over for dinner.
 
Instead, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte pleaded with people last week to think of the risk of transmission to elderly relatives – and banned travel between towns on those key dates as well as between all regions from December 21st-January 6th.
 
But the government is now reconsidering the travel ban between towns on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day after widespread opposition to the rule, Italian media reports.
 
Under pressure from both political oppenents and several ministers in his own cabinet, Conte has opened a “discussion” of the rules, Italian news agency Ansa reports.
 
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said the ban on travel between towns was “absurd”, while health minister Roberto Speranza said the government must maintain “maximum prudence”.
 
“I would like to say that it is all over but unfortunately it is not,” said Speranza on Thursday. “We have asked Italians for more patience and sacrifices over this Christmas too. We really need to stick to our guns.”
 
Photo AFP
 
However, the government looks unlikely to get rid of the rule altogether.

Conte appears to be open to the rules being relaxed, potentially allowing travel between neighbouring municipalities.

“It is clear that those who live in a big city and have close relatives have the opportunity to move, while those in smaller villages may have some difficulties,” Conte told media at a press conference in Brussels on Friday.
 
“If Parliament, assuming all responsibility for it, wants to introduce exceptions to smaller municipalities within a limited kilometre radius, we will come back to this point. Parliament is sovereign. But great caution in any exception,” he stated.
 
Any change to the rules would be likely to come in the form of “a modification of the decree in force since December 4th, or an update to the government's FAQ, which gives with a more extensive interpretation of the situations that justify travel, according to financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.
 
 
The government has already updated the new rules once via a modification to the FAQ, slightly relaxing the rules on travel to second homes in a clarification published on Wednesday.
 
However, everything could depend on the outcome of a debate in the Senate on Wednesday, after the coaliton of right-wing opposition parties presented a motion which aims to have the rule thrown out completely.
 
 
Many people are concerned about how the travel ban would affect older people who are living alone.
 
Under current rules, people are allowed to travel to vist relatives who are “not self-sufficient”, the government has stated, however only one person is allowed to visit at a time.
 
And no travel is allowed for “reasons of company,” the decree law stated.
 
Domestic travel will be limited not only within the higher-risk zones classed as red or orange under Italy's tier system, but also between all regions from December 21st to January 6th. The additional restriction on travel between all towns would then also be in force on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day.
 
These restrictions are in addition to the 10pm evening curfew which remains in place throughout.

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COVID-19

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”

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