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EXPLAINED: What are the rules in Italy’s coronavirus ‘white zones’?

As all Italian regions move into the low-restriction 'white zone' from Monday, here's a closer look at what that means.

EXPLAINED: What are the rules in Italy’s coronavirus ‘white zones’?
The beach at Monterosso, Cinque Terre. Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP
(This article was updated on June 27th)
 
The last of Italy’s regions, Valle d’Aosta, will move into the lowest-risk ‘white zone’ from Monday, joining the rest of the country already in this classification.
 
Italy added the extra white tier to its system of coronavirus rules back in January, which is reserved for parts of the country where the coronavirus risk is lowest.

Valle d’Aosta now meets ‘white zone’ eligibility criteria as it has registered fewer than 50 coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants for three weeks consecutively.

READ ALSO: What is Italy’s Covid-19 digital ‘green pass’ used for and how do you get it?

The main difference for this region will be an end to the limit on guest numbers you can have at home (which is currently four in yellow zones, not including children).

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza signed the new health ordinance on Friday confirming the change, based on the weekly health data.

(Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP)

What changes in ‘white’ zones?

Regions can drop most of the restrictions currently in place in yellow zones – which only included Valle d’Aosta this week.

Outdoor mask-wearing rules can also be relaxed in ‘white’ zones from Monday – though not removed completely – as the government announced earlier this week.

Most other measures have already been eased, including the midnight-5am curfew, which was abandoned nationwide on Monday June 21st.

Covid-19: When do you still need to wear a mask in Italy?

Social distancing rules remain in place in ‘white’ zones, and there’s still a ban on parties and large gatherings at home.

Regions in the ‘white zone’, which means the entire country from Monday, will be able to drop the last remaining restrictions, and reopen trade fairs, theme parks, conferences and indoor swimming pools and hold weddings under the national roadmap for reopening.

Nightclubs and discos are set to restart in early July, with opinions still divided on whether mask-wearing will be compulsory at these venues or not.

And the final set of rules in each region depends on the local authority, as each is free to impose stricter restrictions than those set by the national government.

Coronavirus: Where is the Delta variant spreading in Italy?

What are the criteria for ‘white’ zones?

To be declared a white zone, a region must have fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and an Rt number below 1 for three weeks in a row.

Predictions that the whole of Italy could be in a white zone by 21st June weren’t far off the mark, with the real date coming just a week later.

The national Rt number – the reproduction rate, used to calculate how fast the virus is spreading – remains stable at 0.69, the same as last week.

The incidence rate is declining however, with an average 11 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

Although the whole of Italy will be in the lowest-risk category from Monday, Speranza urged caution and told Sky TG24 news, “We are still in this challenge.”

Prime Minister Mario Draghi added, “The pandemic is not over.”

Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS) said in a report on Friday the Delta variant now accounted for more than 16% of new cases in the country, and warned that this variant was more contagious and had the potential to be partially resistant to vaccines.

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 VACCINES

Italy’s deputy health minister under fire after casting doubt on Covid vaccines

Opposition leaders called for health undersecretary Marcello Gemmato to resign on Tuesday after the official said he was not "for or against" vaccines.

Italy's deputy health minister under fire after casting doubt on Covid vaccines

Gemmato, a pharmacist and member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party, made the remark during an appearance on the political talkshow ReStart on Rai 2 on Monday evening.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

In a widely-shared clip, the official criticises the previous government’s approach to the Covid pandemic, claiming that for a large part of the crisis Italy had the highest death rate and third highest ‘lethality’ rate (the proportion of Covid patients who died of the disease).

When journalist Aldo Cazzullo interjects to ask whether the toll would have been higher without vaccines, Gemmato responds: “that’s what you say,” and claimed: “We do not have the reverse burden of proof.”

The undersecretary goes on to say that he won’t “fall into the trap of taking a side for or against vaccines”.

After Gemmato’s comments, the president of Italy’s National Federation of Medical Guilds, Filippo Anelli, stressed that official figures showed the Italian vaccination campaign had already prevented some 150,000 deaths, slashing the country’s potential death toll by almost half.

Vaccines also prevented eight million cases of Covid-19, over 500,000 hospitalisations, and more than 55,000 admissions to intensive care, according to a report from Italy’s national health institute (ISS) in April 2021.

Gemmato’s comments provoked calls for him to step down, including from the head of the centre-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta.

“A health undersecretary who doesn’t take his distance from no-vaxxers is certainly in the wrong job” wrote the leader of the centrist party Action, Carlo Calenda, on Twitter.

Infectious disease expert Matteo Bassetti of Genoa’s San Martino clinic also expressed shock.

“How is it possible to say that there is no scientific proof that vaccines have helped save the lives of millions of people? You just have to read the scientific literature,” Bassetti tweeted. 

In response to the backlash, Gemmato on Tuesday put out a statement saying he believes “vaccines are precious weapons against Covid” and claiming that his words were taken out of context and misused against him.

The Brothers of Italy party was harshly critical of the previous government’s approach to handling the Covid crisis, accusing the former government of using the pandemic as an excuse to “limit freedom” through its use of the ‘green pass’, a proof of vaccination required to access public spaces. 

But since coming into power, Meloni appears to have significantly softened her stance.

Her appointee for health minister, Orazio Schillaci, is a medical doctor who formed part of the team advising the Draghi administration on its handling of the pandemic.

Schillaci, a former dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at Rome’s Tor Vergata University, has described the former government’s green pass scheme as an “indispensable tool for guaranteeing safety in university classrooms”.

Speaking at a session of the G20 on Tuesday, Meloni referenced the role of vaccines in bringing an end to the Covid pandemic.

“Thanks to the extraordinary work of health personnel, vaccines, prevention, and the accountability of citizens, life has gradually returned to normal,’ the prime minister said in a speech.

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