Covid-19: Italy declares three regions ‘red zones’ under new restrictions

Three Italian regions will return to near-lockdown on Sunday, the government has announced, as coronavirus infections continue to rise.

Covid-19: Italy declares three regions 'red zones' under new restrictions
Milan and the surrounding Lombardy region will become a 'red zone' under new restrctions. Photo: AFP

The northern region of Lombardy, the island of Sicily and the autonomous province of South Tyrol will become “red zones” with only supermarkets, pharmacies and other stores selling basic necessities left open.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza will sign an ordinance later on Friday making the changes official, with the new classifications based on the latest health ministry data.

“This week confirms the general worsening of the epidemiological situation in the country already observed the previous week,” read the report from the Higher Health Institure (ISS) and the health ministry.

The rise in infections was “relatively contained thanks to the mitigation measures adopted during the holiday period” – however the strict measures had not been able to stop new infections from spiking in some areas.

In Naples, for example, infections are up by 18% after the Christmas holidays.

Speranza said the worsening infection rates in Italy “cannot be underestimated” in a country that has already suffered almost 81,000 dead since the pandemic began early last year.

Under the national tiered system, with rules changing based on the level of contagion risk, nine of Italy's 20 regions move up from “yellow” to “orange” zones, to make a total of 12 in that category.

This means Italy's regions will be classified as follows from Sunday January 17th:

Red zones: Lombardy, Sicily, Bolzano

Orange zones: Abruzzo, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Lazio, Liguria, Marche, Piedmont, Puglia, Umbria and Valle D'Aosta, are turning yellow to orange, joining Calabria, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto, which are currently orange and will remain so.
Campania, Sardinia, Basilicata, Tuscany, Molise and the autonomous province of Trento will remain yellow zones.
In red and orange areas, restaurants and bars are closed except for take-away and delivery.

In orange zones shops are open, although malls are shut on public holidays.

A nighttime curfew remains in effect throughout the country from 10pm to 5am and gyms, pools and theatres remain closed. 

Earlier on Friday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced a new emergency decree which keeps the current ban on non-essential movement between regions in force untl at least February 15th. 

Travel between regions is allowed for work, health, or other essential reasons.

New 'white zones'

Under the new emergency decree, Italy is also adding an extra tier to its system of varying restrictions: white, reserved for parts of the country where the coronavirus risk is lowest. 

These areas will be exempt from the restrictions in place in yellow, orange or red zones, including the nightly curfew and 6pm closing time for bars and restaurants.

To qualify, regions must have fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants for three weeks straight, as well as showing other positive indicators such as a low reproduction number and effective tracing system.

None of Italy's 20 regions currently meet the criteria, under the latest health data; the region that comes closest is Tuscany, where the rate of incidence is still around three times higher than it would need to be.

Note: Some rules may vary under local or regional restrictions in Italy. It is recommended that you also check the rules set by your town and region. Find out how to do that in a separate article here.

For further details on the current coronavirus situation in Italy, please see the Health Ministry's website (in English).

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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].”