UPDATE: Italy announces plan for easing coronavirus restrictions from end of April

Italy's prime minister has announced that the country will begin easing some of its strict coronavirus measures from the end of this month.

UPDATE: Italy announces plan for easing coronavirus restrictions from end of April
Italy's Prime Minister, Mario Draghi (R) and Health Minister Roberto Speranza (L) give a press conference on April 16th in Rome. Photo: POOL/AFP

Many of Italy’s current restrictions will be gradually relaxed from April 26th, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi confirmed at a press conference on Friday afternoon.

The lower-risk ‘yellow’ zone classification will return from this date, he said, alongside the orange and red zones currently covering the whole country.

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

Schools and “open-air business activities” will be the priorities for reopening, he said.

All schools and universities will resume in-person teaching in yellow and orange zones.

Restaurants will be allowed to reopen in yellow zones, for both lunch and dinner – with outdoor seating only.

“The first key date is April 26th, with the restoration of the yellow zone,” said health minister Roberto Speranza.

“Then from May 15th the idea is that the outdoor pools can reopen, from June 1st gyms, from July 1st we can imagine (the restart of) trade fairs.”

However, he said the government could not promise a date in which the economy would fully reopen.

“It would not be honest,” Speranza said.

READ ALSO: Schools, restaurants, gyms, travel: Here’s Italy’s new timetable for reopening

Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The government is under pressure to ease restrictions after a string of protests, some of which turned violent, from a wide range of groups, from entertainment workers to restaurant owners.

“These measures are a response to the sufferings of many,” Draghi said, adding that they “bring greater serenity in the country and lay the ground for the relaunch of the economy”.

Travel will be once again allowed between yellow zone regions, Draghi stated. Currently, non-essential travel between all regions is banned.

The nationwide 10pm curfew stays in place.

Many restrictions are to remain in areas designated higher-risk red and orange zones.

Draghi added that it was necessary for “correct behaviours to be scrupulously observed, such as masks and distancing”.

The prime minister did not mention any plans to relax current restrictions on international travel at this point.

The announcement came after a meeting on Friday between Mario Draghi’s government, the Higher Health Institute and the Scientific Technical Committee, which advise ministers on health restrictions.

The health minister later on Friday is also expected to announce some changes to the zone classifications based on the latest health data, as the national average Rt number (which shows the infection rate) fell again to 0.85, from from 0.92 last week.

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”