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Calls grow for ‘red zone’ Christmas lockdown in Italy

Pressure is mounting on Italy's prime minister to declare a strict nationwide lockdown over Christmas, but no decision has yet been made.

Calls grow for 'red zone' Christmas lockdown in Italy
Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Most of Italy's regional governments, as well as health minister Roberto Speranza and other cabinet ministers, have voiced support for the strictest possible measures to be enforced in Italy over the Christmas period.

However, while some form of new restrictions look likely, nothing has yet been confirmed as prime minister Giuseppe Conte continues talks on Wednesday evening.

Further restrictions are expected, on top of those announced on December 3rd, after ministers sounded the alarm over crowds in city centres and health authorities said the coronavirus infection rate is still too high.

READ ALSO: Is Italy about to announce a national lockdown over Christmas?

Conte said on Tuesday that stricter rules were needed to avert the risk of a third wave of coronavirus infections.

Though Conte has held a series of meetings with health experts, regional governments and different political parties in recent days, no agreement on the new rules has yet been reached.

Conte is now under pressure to sign off on tough rules, with most regional leaders, Speranza, culture minister Dario Franceschini, regional affairs minister Francesco Boccia, and the Five Star Movement, one of the main parties in Italy's ruling coalition government all in favour, Italian newspaper La Repubblica reports.

“At the Ministry of Health we have proposed to opt for a strict measure that closely resembles the red zone,” Health Undersecretary Sandra Zampa told media on Wednesday.

Veneto regional president Luca Zaia said he'd like Italy to be declared a red zone until Janary 6th, Ansa reports, a position shared by authorities in Lazio, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Molise and others.

They are “calling for a national red zone from December 24 to January 6th,” La Repubblica writes.

“Even the regions today spoke in favour of the lockdown, with no difference between center-right and center-left administrations.”

Conte is reportedly hoping to avoid imposing the tough red zone measures, which would mean closing all non-essential shops over the holidays.

The prime minister is seeking a “compromise scenario” which would mean “red zones during holidays and orange on the days before holidays,” Repubblica said.

“But even for this plan, there is still no agreement.”

Regional leaders said they were concerned about an “exodus” from north to south next weekend, December 19-20, ahead of new travel restrictions coming into force on the 21st, Ansa reports.

Ths would echo scenes in March, when thousands of people fled northern Italy ahead of the first lockdown – returning to southern hometowns, and often taking infections with them.

Red zone rules

Under Italy's tiered system of rules aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus, red zone restrictions are the strictest possible measures intended for areas with a high contagion rate.

Enforcing them aross Italy would effectively amount to a national lockdown.

The rules include ordering most shops to close as well as restaurants, and forbidding travel within as well as to and from regions, only allowing people to leave their homes for essential reasons such as work or buying essentials.

Italy's government has recently declared most Italian regions lower-risk yellow zones, with a few orange zones remaining and no red zones.

MAP: Which zone is each region in under Italy's tier system?

As things currently stand, Italy will impose stricter limits on international and domestic travel from December 21st to January 6th, with everyone arriving from overseas subject to 14 days of quarantine and crossing between Italian regions only allowed in emergencies. 

The government has already reconsidered several rules since it unveiled the emergency decree on December 3rd.

In clarifications posted to its website, the government updated the rules on visiting second homes and on quarantine after travel abroad over the Christmas period.

The government was also set to loosen restrictions on non-essential travel between towns on key dates. Currently, all travel between towns will be forbidden on December 25-26th and January 1st.

It is widely expected that this rule may yet be altered to allow some travel between neigbouring towns, however nothing has been officially confirmed.

Red zone restrictions include ordering most shops to close and only allowing people to leave their homes for essential reasons such as work or buying essentials.

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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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