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HEALTH

Covid-19: Italian PM Conte signs new emergency decree

The Italian prime minister has announced coronavirus restrictions to continue until March under the latest emergency decree, which comes into force on January 16th.

Covid-19: Italian PM Conte signs new emergency decree
People enjoy an outdoor aperitivo in Milan on Wednesday.Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Friday afternoon signed the latest emergency decree extending the country's coronavirus restrictions until March 5th.

The decree renews all measures currentlly in force, including the evening curfew starting at 10pm.

It keeps travel restrictions in place, and also keeps Italy's ski slopes closed until at least February 15th. Gyms and pools remain closed until March 5th.

Here's a look at what changes and what stays the same under the new decree:

Regional travel ban to continue

The current ban on leaving your region, introduced initially as a temporary measure over the Christmas holidays, will remain in place until at least February 15th, the government has announced.

That means that even travelling between yellow zones, where restrictions are lighter, is forbidden except in emergencies.

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

You can continue to cross regional borders for work, health reasons or necessities, or to return to your place of residence.

Takeaway drinks ban
 
The government has confirmed a ban on selling takeaway drinks (from bars which do not also sell food) from 6pm.
 
The goal is to prevent gatherings by stopping people from drinking near the premises.
 
Limit on house guests

Until March 5th, the government has extended the guideline first introduced over the Christmas holidays that people should invite no more than two adults over at a time.

You're allowed to travel once per day within your own region, if you live in a yellow zone, or within your own comune if your region is orange or red, to visit someone else's home. And while you shouldn't be accompanied by more than one other independent person over the age of 15, you're allowed to bring children under 14 or other adults who need care.

Exceptions for small towns

The government has also extended an exception for people in small towns (5,000 residents or fewer), who are allowed to leave their own comune to go to any other town within a 30 kilometre radius – so long as they avoid the provincial capital.

They can continue to do so even if their region is declared a red or orange zone, where residents of larger towns must stay within their own comune.

Museums to reopen

Under the new decree, museums and galleries will be allowed to reopen in yellow zones from Monday to Friday.

New 'white zones'

Italy is 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 a 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, going by 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.

Most regions expected to turn orange

Most Italian regions are expected to be placed in the orange zone later on Friday, Italian media reports.

Changes to Italy's tier system will be confirmed separately by the health minister, as these are based on weekly health data from each region.

Residency permits extended

Good news if your permesso di soggiorno was due to expire by April 30th: it will be automatically extended until May 20th, giving you a few extra weeks to go to your local police headquarters to renew it. 

Elections postponed

The deadlines to hold any upcoming special parliamentary elections and municipal elections have been pushed back to May 20th.

State of emergency extended

The government has also extended the Covid-19 state of emergency until at least April 30th, the health minister announced on Wednesday.

The state of emergency does not determine the rules.

However, it allows the govenment to bypass red tape, speeding up the response to the changing coronavirus situation by passing new rules under emergency decrees.

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 RULES

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”.

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