Italy’s Covid-19 zone restrictions updated as infection rate drops

Italy's northern region of Lombardy has been moved out of the "red zone" as Italy's coronavirus infection rate dropped for the first time in five weeks.

Italy's Covid-19 zone restrictions updated as infection rate drops
Milan and the surrounding Lombardy region will be reclassified as an orange zone from Sunday. Photo: Piero CRUCIATTI/AFP

Italy's Rt number, or reproduction rate, has dropped to 0.97 – the first overall reduction seen in five weeks, while admissions to intensive care units and hospital wards have also dropped.

But Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Saturday that the challenge is still tough as ten regions still have an Rt number above 1.

Under the national tiered system, with rules changing weekly based on the level of contagion risk, the hardest-hit region of Lombardy has been moved from the “red zone” imposed last week, to the slightly less restrictive “orange zone”.

Sardinia faces more restrictions, as it has moved from the “yellow zone” to “orange zone.” 

The governor of Lombardy, Attilio Fontana, called the move out of the red zone, “excellent news” and said that schools will resume their activities “as early as Monday.” He referred to reported errors in the data that brought Lombardy into the “red zone” last week.

Meanwhile the governor of Sardinia, Christian Solinas expressed his concern about moving Sardinia into the “orange zone” and hopes for a correction of the decision.

All other regions remain where they were placed last week, which means Sicily and Bolzano stay in 'red zones” with only supermarkets, pharmacies and other stores selling basic necessities left open.

14 regions are will be in the “orange zone” which means shops are open but malls are shut on public holidays. Restaurants and bars are closed except for take-away until 10pm and delivery.

Yellow zones do not face any additional restrictions beyond the national ones.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza has signed the ordinance on Saturday, making the changes official from Sunday 24th January, with the new classification based on the latest health ministry data.

This means Italy's regions will be classified as follows from Sunday January 24th:

Red zones: Sicily, Bolzano

Orange zones: Lombardy, Sardinia, Abruzzo, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Lazio, Liguria, Marche, Piedmont, Puglia, Umbria and Valle D'Aosta, Calabria, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto
Yellow zones: Campania, Basilicata, Tuscany, Molise and the autonomous province of Trento

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

Last week, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced a new emergency decree which keeps the current ban on non-essential movement between regions in force until 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 has also added an extra tier to its system of varying restrictions: white, reserved for parts of the country where the coronavirus risk is lowest. 

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

EXPLAINED: What are Italy's new coronavirus 'white zones'?

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.

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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‘Not offensive’: Italian minister defends Covid testing rule for China arrivals

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani defended the policy of testing all arrivals from China for Covid-19 after Beijing said the policy "lacks scientific basis".

'Not offensive': Italian minister defends Covid testing rule for China arrivals

“It seems perfectly normal to me,” Tajani told Italian state broadcaster Rai on Tuesday. “Having a test is a way to protect people’s health. There is nothing offensive about it.”

“Lots of Chinese and Italians coming from China do it (anyway),” he claimed.

READ ALSO: Is the EU likely to reinstate Covid travel restrictions?

Italy was the first European country to make testing on arrival a requirement for passengers arriving on flights from China last week, after a surge in the infection rate there.

Italian Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said on Wednesday that the screening requirement was “essential to ensure the surveillance and identification of any variants of the virus in order to protect the Italian population”.

READ ALSO: Italy pushes for EU-wide China Covid measures as tests show no new variants

France and Spain have since introduced similar rules (as well as non-EU countries including the UK and USA) and there is now a meeting scheduled for Wednesday of the EU Integrated Policy Response Capability to discuss coordinating measures.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said the screening policy would be “ineffective” if not done on a European level, as only people arriving on direct flights from China were being tested in Italy, not those with stopovers.

But the Chinese government on Tuesday hit out at countries introducing a policy of mandatory testing for people arriving from China.

“Some countries have taken entry restrictions targeting only Chinese travellers,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning was quoted as saying at a briefing by AFP.

“This lacks scientific basis and some practices are unacceptable”.

She said Beijing may “take countermeasures based on the principle of reciprocity”.