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Italy tightens Covid rules in three regions from Monday as infection rate continues to rise

Three more Italian regions will be placed under tighter restrictions, the government announced on Friday, as coronavirus infections continue to rise.

Italy tightens Covid rules in three regions from Monday as infection rate continues to rise
Photo by Carlo Hermann/AFP

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza signed a new ordinance on Friday evening making the regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto orange zones.

The Campania region, which includes Naples, will be classified as a red zone, joining the regions of Basilicata and Molise in the highest-risk level.

The changes will come into effect on Monday March 8th.

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

The ordinance also extended the current orange zone classification in Emilia Romagna. However, local authorities have declared red zones in the provinces of Bologna and Modena.

Meanwhile, the region of Lombardy declared itself a ‘reinforced orange’ zone from Friday.

The health ministry noted that its regional rules are in force alongside any further restrictions announced by local authorities in each town, province or region.

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between rules in Italy’s orange, dark orange and red 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.

In red zones, schools and hairdressers will also close under new rules announced in Italy’s latest emergency decree this week.

Sardinia remains the sole low-risk “white” region.

The regional classifications are reviewed weekly based on the latest health ministry data.

The new clampdown came after this week’s report from the ISS health institute said the R number — which measures the rate at which the virus is spreading — had risen above one, to 1.06, for the first time in seven weeks.

READ ALSO: Lockdowns and vaccine scepticism – how France and Italy are struggling to get Covid under control

The so-called British variant of the coronavirus has become “overwhelmingly dominant” in Italy, ISS President Silvio Brusaferro said.

But the other variants, the so-called Brazilian, South African and others are also worrying, he added.

Infection rates have been rising sharply in Italy recently, with many outbreaks attributed to the spread of new, more contagious variants of the virus

On Thursday the GIMBE health think tank warned that Italy had entered the third wave of the coronavirus, as it reported a sharp increase in infection numbers.

In the February 24-March 2 period coronavirus cases rose by a third from the previous week to more than 123,000, the highest figure since early December, GIMBE said.

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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