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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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”.