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HEALTH

When is Italy likely to relax its coronavirus restrictions?

With many areas still effectively under lockdown and business closures continuing across the country, the Italian government has not yet provided a clear road map for reopenings. Here's what we know so far.

When is Italy likely to relax its coronavirus restrictions?
A protester in Rome holds a t-shirt reading "Restaurant Open, Covid-Free" at a protest against closures on April 12th. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

The Italian government is meeting on Friday to discuss plans for relaxing the country’s coronavirus restrictions.

Italy’s regional leaders on Thursday approved a set of guidelines for the planned reopening of restaurants, bars, shops, gyms, cinemas and theatres – however no date has yet been confirmed for easing restrictions.

The proposed new rules maintain a lot of restrictions, including on contact sports.

Plans include reopening cinemas and theatres with a two-metre distancing requirement, or one metre if face masks are worn.

They also suggest stopping restaurants and bars with seating from serving drinks at the bar after 2pm.

But the new rules have yet to be approved by the government, and it is not yet known when each type of business might be allowed to reopen.

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza suggested on Tuesday that the current coronavirus restrictions may be eased significantly next month.

While stressing that it’s not yet possible to give any firm dates for reopening, Speranza said that the numbers are improving and that “presumably May will be a month of reopenings”.

READ ALSO:

He was speaking at a meeting with trade union representatives on Tuesday following a series of protests held in Rome and other Italian cities by business owners and employees demanding an end to closures across the country.

“A decision on the reopening will probably be made next week by the Council of Ministers”, the Minister for Economic Development, Giancarlo Giorgetti, told the meeting.

Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI/AFP

The whole of Italy remains under tightened restrictions, with bars and restaurants only allowed to open for take-away and delivery, and hairdressers and most shops closed in the highest risk ‘red’ zones. Across the country, gyms, cinemas and museums remain closed.

Meanwhile, all non-essential travel between towns and regions is forbidden and a nightly curfew in place from 10pm.

MAP: Which zone is your region in under Italy’s coronavirus restrictions?

The government has said the current restrictions will stay in place until at least the end of April

Business groups and regional leaders however continue to push for the government to ease some restrictions sooner, including on regulation of the restarting of gyms, cinemas, theaters and museums is also envisaged. 

Italy’s tourism minister last week proposed June 2nd as a possible date for allowing non-essential travel to restart, though this has not been officially confirmed, and no further details were given.

Speranza meanwhile said he “hopes” Italy will adopt the European health passport by June, news agency Ansa reports, saying the scheme was “important to give greater confidence in travel and mobility.”

READ ALSO: Can I travel to Italy if I’ve had both doses of the Covid vaccine?

Photo: Vincenzo PINTO/AFP

However, he said it was “premature to talk about reopening discos”. 

“Let’s not forget what happened last summer,” he said, apparently referring to the abrupt closure of nightclubs and tightening of rules on mask-wearing in mid-August 2020, as a fresh rise in cases in Italy was partly attributed to international travel and crowds of partying holidaymakers.

READ ALSO: Which travellers have to quarantine in Italy and for how long?

The suggested timeline for reopening this year would be similar to that followed in 2020, when rules were gradually lifted throughout May following a strict lockdown lasting almost three months.

Last year’s reopening of tourism and other businesses was possible, ministers said, as Italy stepped up its test-and-trace efforts and recorded a drastic reduction in the number of coronavirus transmissions.

But at the moment, as Italy’s vaccine roll-out continues to falter and the death toll remains higher than in neighbouring European countries, health experts warn that conditions are not right for reopening.

Medical workers’ unions wrote to the government this week to urge caution, saying “any premature relaxation of restrictions could put the lives of Covid-19 patients at great risk”.  

“A slowdown of the restrictions will only be possible if daily infections remain below 5,000 cases, while maintaining a large capacity for testing, and resuming contact tracing to control the spread of the epidemic,” their recommendation read. “Hospitalizations would need to be far below the critical thresholds, and vaccinations completed at least for frail subjects and those over 60, the categories at the highest risk of hospitalization and mortality.”

Italy on Tuesday recorded 13,447 new coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours and 476 more deaths, the health ministry said.

Member comments

  1. I agree Sarah, Also Italy needs to up its vaccination plan if its actually got one! Lots of talk as usual.

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ENVIRONMENT

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy

The northern cities of Milan and Turin were named Italy's 'smog capitals' in a new pollution report on Monday which urged the government to take action over poor air quality.

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy
Photo: Pixabay

Smog and pollution are choking Italian cities year-round and many towns are exceeding limits on fine particles and other pollution, according to another report from Italian environmental watchdog Legambiente.

The Mal’aria di città (Air pollution in the city) report for 2023, unveiled on Monday, was the latest to warn about the risks to health posed by pollution in many parts of the country.

It found that 25 of 95 cities monitored had violated clean air ordinances by exceeding daily fine particle (PM10) emission limits, which are currently set at no more than 35 days a year with a daily average of over 50 micrograms per cubic metre.

Turin was ranked as the worst offender, exceeding this level on 90 days, closely followed by Milan (84), Asti (79), Modena (75), and Padua and Venice at 70.

These were followed by Cremona, Treviso, Mantua and Rovigo, all of which exceeded limits to a lesser degree.

All of the most polluted cities were in the northern Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto, with most within the north-western ‘industrial triangle’.

Some southern cities featured nearer the bottom of the ranking, with Andria (Puglia) and Ragusa (Sicily) exceeding limits on several days, as well as Rome, which overshot the permitted level for one day.

(Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The average annual rate of PM10 emissions nationwide dropped slightly, by two percent year-on-year, the report found.

“This, however, is not enough to guarantee the health of citizens,” said Stefano Ciafani, president of Legambiente.

He pointed out that the situation looked even worse if air quality in Italian cities were measured against tighter limits under the new European Directive on air quality, in force from 2030, which lowers the PM10 threshold from 35 to 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

“Only 23 out of 96 cities (24 percent) would be under these limits,” Ciafani said, while 84 percent would exceed the threshold for PM2.5 and 61 percent for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Italy has repeatedly been reprimanded by the European Union over air quality, and has “persistently and systematically” breached EU recommended limits, the European Court of Justice ruled in 2020.

The north of Italy has long been ranked among the worst areas in Europe for polluted air according to data from the European Environment Agency.

“Air pollution is not only an environmental problem, but also a health problem of great importance,” said Ciafani. “In Europe, it’s the main cause of premature death due to environmental factors.”

“Italy has more than 52,000 deaths per year caused by PM2.5 emissions, equal to a fifth of those recorded throughout the continent,” he said.

The main causes of air pollution in Italian cities are reported to be industry, inefficient domestic heating systems, agricultural practices and, most of all, heavy traffic.

In Italy, cars continue to be by far the most-used means of transport. 65.3 percent of journeys overall are made by car, Legambiante wrote, with the emissions from some 38 million cars choking Italy’s towns and cities.

(Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

Legambiente said “drastic” measures were required to tackle the problem, including funds for more efficient heating systems in homes and public buildings and a major increase in public transport provision.

The group said Italy must “quadruple the availability of public transit, promoting integrated season tickets as done by Germany in 2022”, triple the number of electric buses, create zero-emission zones in town centres, and “create another 16,000 kilometres of cycle paths”.

It also praised local authorities choosing to bring in 30 km/h speed limits in city centres. Councils in Bologna, Turin, Milan and Cesena have all said they plan to implement these limits, following the lead of European cities including Paris and Madrid, despite fierce criticism from Italian transport minister Matteo Salvini.

Legambiente published a petition urging the government to make clean air and more livable cities a priority, saying Italy should follow Paris in attempting to create ’15-minute cities’, in which everyone lives within a quarter of an hour’s walk of vital amenities such as shops and schools and possibly also workplaces.