Italy confirms ‘red zone’ lockdown over Christmas and New Year

Italy will be placed under nationwide measures from Monday, December 21st, prime minister Giuseppe Conte announced on Friday night, amid fears of a coronavirus ‘third wave’.

Italy confirms 'red zone' lockdown over Christmas and New Year
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte gives a televised press conference on December 18th. Screenshot: Palazzo Chigi/Youtube

The whole country will be placed under additional nationwide restrictions for the entire Christmas period, from December 21st until Epiphany on January 6th, Conte announced.

“The situation remains difficult,” Conte said in a televised press conference just before 10pm on Friday. “Our (scientific) experts are concerned that the contagion rate could soar over the Christmas period.”

He said red zone restrictions would be in force across the country from December 24th-27th, and December 31st-January 3rd, and again from January 5th-6th.

This means that red zone measures apply on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and the weekend immediately following, and on Epiphany and the day before.

Declaring a red zone across Italy effectively amounts to a national lockdown, similar to that announced in March.

Red zone restrictions, the strictest possible under Italy’s tiered system of coronavirus rules introduced in November, include ordering all non-essential shops to close as well as restaurants and bars, and forbidding travel within as well as to and from regions.

“You can leave the house only for reasons of work, necessity and health,” Conte said.

Sports are banned, however Conte confirmed that outdoor exercise “near your home” is allowed.

And rules have been altered to allow “a maximum of two non-cohabiting people to visit friends or relatives at private homes,” Conte confirmed.

Under-14s are not included in the restrictions, he added.

Visits are only allowed until 10pm as curfew rules remain in place.

On the days that are not holidays – December 28th-30th and January 4th – the entire country will be under slightly less restrictive orange zone measures, under which shops can reopen but not bars or restaurants.

On those dates, travel is allowed to and from small municipalities (defined as those with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants) within a radius of 30 kilometres. However, entering provincial capitals is forbidden.

“It is a measure that we have designed to allow the minimum of sociability that is suitable for this period,” Conte said at the press conference from Palazzo Chigi. 

“This press conference was a bit late because we wanted to include the financial aid measures immediately”, Conte said, announcing a further 465 million euros in compensation for businesses hit by the closures.

“We stand alongside the business owners who will be affected by these measures,” he said.

“We have suspended tax contributions for those who have made losses. Anyone who suffers economic damage must be immediately compensated.”


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Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

The new Italian government has announced the end of some remaining Covid health measures. Here's a look at what will - and won't - change.

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

Few Covid-related restrictions remain in Italy today, six months after the nationwide ‘state of emergency’ ended.

The previous government had kept only a handful of precautionary measures in place – which the new government, led by Giorgia Meloni, must now decide whether or not to keep.

The cabinet is holding a meeting on Monday and will issue a decree this week detailing any changes to the health measures.

Many expect the government to scrap all measures entirely by the end of the year, after Meloni and her party criticised the way Mario Draghi’s administration handled the pandemic throughout its tenure. 

Meloni clearly stated in her first address to parliament last Tuesday that “we will not replicate the model of the previous government” when it comes to managing Covid.

READ ALSO: Five key points from Meloni’s first speech as new Italian PM

While she acknowledged that Italy could be hit by another Covid wave, or another pandemic, she did not say how her government would deal with it.

Meanwhile, new health minister Orazio Schillaci issued a statement on Friday confirming the end of several existing measures, saying he “considers it appropriate to initiate a progressive return to normality in activities and behaviour”.

Workplace ban for unvaccinated medical staff

Schillaci confirmed that the ministry will allow doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to return to work after being suspended because they refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Those who refuse vaccination will be “reintegrated” into the workforce before the rule expires at the end of this year, as part of what the minister called a “gradual return to normality”.

They will be allowed to return “in light of the worrying shortage of medical and health personnel” and “considering the trend of Covid infections”, the statement said.

Fines issued to healthcare staff aged over 50 who refused vaccination would also be cancelled, it added.

There were some 1,579 doctors and dentists refusing vaccination at the end of October, representing 0.3 percent of all those registered with Italy’s National Federation of the Orders of Physicians, Surgeons and Dentists (Fnomceo) 

Daily Covid data reports

Schillaci also confirmed in the statement that the health ministry will no longer release daily updates on Covid-19 contagion rates, hospital cases and deaths, saying this would be replaced by a weekly update.

It said it would however make the data available at any time to relevant authorities.

Mask requirement in hospitals to stay?

The requirement to wear face masks in hospitals, care homes and other healthcare facilities expires on Monday, October 31st.

At a meeting on the same day the government is expected to decide whether to extend the measure.

READ ALSO: What can we expect from Italy’s new government?

While the government had looked at scrapping the requirement, it reportedly changed stance at the last minute on Monday after facing heavy criticism from health experts.

Media reports published while the meeting was in progress on Monday said government sources had indicated the measure would in fact be extended.

Confirmation is expected to come later on Monday.

Italy’s face mask rules in care homes and healthcare facilities are up for renewal. Photo by Thierry ZOCCOLAN / AFP

‘Green pass’ health certificate

There is no indication that the new government plans to bring back any requirements to show a ‘green pass’: the digital certificate proving vaccination against or recent recovery from Covid, or a negative test result.

The pass is currently only required for entry to healthcare facilities and care homes, and this is expected to remain the case.

‘Dismantling the measures’

Some of the confirmed changes were strongly criticised by Italy’s most prominent healthcare experts.

Head of the Gimbe association for evidence-based medicine, Nino Cartabellotta, said the focus on cancelling fines for unvaccinated healthcare workers was “irrelevant from a health point of view .. but unscientific and highly diseducative”.

He told news agency Ansa it was “absolutely legitimate” for a new government to discontinue the previous administration’s measures, but that this “must also be used to improve everything that the previous government was unable to do”.

The government should prioritise “more analytical collection of data on hospitalised patients, investments in ventilation systems for enclosed rooms … accelerating coverage with vaccine boosters,” he said.

However, the plan at the moment appeared to be “a mere dismantling of the measures in place,” he said, “in the illusory attempt to consign the pandemic to oblivion, ignoring the recommendations of the international public health authorities”.