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HEALTH

IN NUMBERS: Is it too soon for Italy to relax its coronavirus restrictions?

As Italy's government prepares to begin easing the strict coronavirus measures in place across the country, here's what the latest health data tells us.

IN NUMBERS: Is it too soon for Italy to relax its coronavirus restrictions?
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Italy last week unveiled plans to begin relaxing restrictions from the end of April. The news came as a relief to many – not least the business owners who’ve been protesting about the economic impact of the country’s prolonged shutdown.

But many in the country have questioned whether it’s really safe to do so yet amid a still-high infection rate and a sluggish vaccine rollout.

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

The government insisted it was taking a “calculated risk” as it announced the reopening. However, some health experts warned on Monday that reopening too much too soon would risk triggering a new wave that could mean closures during the summer tourist season. 

“This is a very delicate phase. If the curve starts rising again, we’re risking the summer season,” Dr Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe foundation for evidence-based medicine, told Italian Radio Cusano Campus on Monday.

He stressed that the government’s plan relied heavily on the public following the rules, particularly on masks and social distancing.

And, with many older and more vulnerable people still not vaccinated in Italy, doctors have warned of the risks if infections were to rise again following a relaxation of the rules.

Medical workers’ unions last week wrote to the government 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. 

The number of new cases nationwide is currently at around 15,000 daily.

“Hospitalizations would need to be far below the critical thresholds, and vaccinations complete at least for frail subjects and those over 60, the categories at the highest risk of hospitalization and mortality,” the unions warned.

While the numbers are moving in the right direction, Italy has some way to go before those requirements are met.

“It is true that new cases are progressively reducing, but we have half a million positive cases, and that’s an underestimated number,” Cartabellotta said.

“Hospital admissions are decreasing, they have decreased by almost 20% in 11 days, but in the critical area and in intensive care the descent is slower, and we still have regions that are beyond the critical threshold,” he said.

Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

“We need to be aware that reopening is happening on a tightrope.”

The health situation in Italy varies considerably from region to region – which is why the restrictions currently vary across the country under a system of ‘red zone’ and ’orange zone’ rules.

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

Most of the planned easing of restrictions from April 26th would only apply in areas that qualify as lower-risk ‘yellow’ zones – a classification which does not apply to any part of the country at the moment.

We won’t know whether any regions actually qualify for ‘yellow’ zone status until Friday, April 23rd, when any changes will be announced based on the previous week’s regional health data.

Meanwhile, Italy’s vaccination programme appears to be speeding up, with a new daily record of almost 350,000 shots administered on Friday.

The latest tallies are welcome news after the country has faced a string of setbacks and missed targets in the vaccination rollout.

But Italy is still lagging behind the European Union average, with the number of people receiving one dose amounting to 16.9% of the population.

READ ALSO: How fast is Italy vaccinating its population compared to other European countries?

More than 10 million people in Italy have received at least one shot of a vaccine, according to official government figures.

Of those, 4.4 million have had both doses required for immunisation. 

However, Italy is a long way from having all over-60s vaccinated.

Many of those in older age groups remain at risk, with only 3.4% of people aged 70-79 fully vaccinated so far.

IN CHARTS: Who is Italy vaccinating fastest?

The government is now aiming to get 80% of the population fully vaccinated “by autumn”, which the prime minister said on Friday was an “achievable” target.

Despite recent improvements, concerns remain that the relatively slow pace of Italy’s vaccination rollout will make it more difficult for the country to safely restart travel this summer.

With many of its own citizens and residents currently unable to access the vaccine, it’s not yet known if Italy will allow vaccinated tourists to enter the country for summer holidays.

How much, and how soon, Italy is able to reopen businesses and restarts travel will depend on the health data in the coming weeks and months.

READ ALSO: 

The government has not yet confirmed any plans to relax the current travel restrictions. Nor has it said whether the country will definitely be taking part in the EU’s Digital Green Certificates scheme, due to begin in June.

The proposed EU travel certificates will have information on whether a traveller has been vaccinated or not, if they have received a negative test result, or if they have recovered from Covid-19, allowing them to travel throughout the bloc more easily.

At the moment, the Italian government is discussing implementing a domestic travel “pass” that would allow holders to freely enter and leave Italy’s higher-risk orange and red zones, however no details of the plan have yet been announced.

Member comments

  1. There seems a strange logic to reopening the country here, its so scatter gun…. Less than a month ago Sardinia was a triumph…they went white a couple weeks later they were in red….My part of Tuscany was declared red weeks ago, yet surrounding areas in Tuscany stayed orange….and after weeks our numbers now still barely clear us from red zone!!!

    We have to stop the talking and get vaccines in arms, of any type if they are approved. Not just for the sake of our populations health and mental wellbeing, but to save our tourist season…Many business lost easter business for a second year and they are now immanently looking at loosing a second summer…what are we doing here…Stop this procrastination…Look no further than the UK…hurts me to say it but they got there act together on this….they stumped up the money bought vaccines by the bucket load… and got it into people…over the last weeks they’ve are recording less deaths daily in the whole county than we have in just Tuscany daily…

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HEALTH

Living in Italy: Five tips to help you survive the local pharmacy

From ear piercings to flu jabs, Italian ‘farmacie’ are among the most useful stores in the country, but they’re also very odd places. Here are our tips on getting through the pharmacy experience.

Living in Italy: Five tips to help you survive the local pharmacy

Italian pharmacies aren’t just stores selling prescription or over-the-counter medicines.

As a customer, you’ll find all sorts of natural remedies, basic health supplies and personal care items on their shelves. 

You’ll also be able to receive basic medical services (for instance, blood pressure checks, Covid tests and flu jabs) and some non-health-related ones (like getting your ears pierced!) in most branches. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I still get the flu vaccine in Italy? 

But, while being extremely useful stores, Italian farmacie (pronunciation available here) are also peculiar places and their set of unwritten rules and solidified traditions may well throw off newcomers.. 

So here are five tips that might help you complete your first expeditions to your local pharmacy without making a fool of yourself.

1 – Decipher your doctor’s scribbles before your trip

Much like some of their foreign colleagues, Italian GPs have a penchant for writing prescriptions that no one else is actually able to read. 

We might never find out why doctors seem so intent on making ancient hieroglyphs fashionable again, but their calligraphic efforts will surely get in the way of you trying to buy whatever medicine you need to survive. 

To avoid hiccups, make sure you know exactly what you need to get. If in doubt, reach out to your GP to confirm.

Don’t rely on pharmacists being able to figure out your doctor’s handwriting because they often have no clue either.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to make a doctor’s appointment in Italy 

Pharmacy in Codogno, near Milan

In most small towns and rural areas local pharmacies have very ‘thin’ opening hours. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

2 – Double-check the pharmacy’s opening times

If you’re from the UK or the US, you might be used to pharmacies being open from 8am to 10pm on weekdays and having slightly reduced opening times over the weekend. 

You can forget about that in Italy. In big cities, most pharmacies will shut no later than 8pm on weekdays and will be closed on either Saturdays or Sundays.

READ ALSO: Coughs, colds and flu: What to say and do if you fall sick in Italy 

As for small towns or villages, opening times will have a nice Middle Ages vibe to them, with local stores remaining shut on weekends and keeping their doors open from 9am to 12.30pm and then from 3.30pm to 7.30pm on weekdays. 

So always check your local pharmacy’s hours before leaving home and, should their times not be available online, call them up. An awkward phone conversation with the pharmacist is still preferable to a wasted trip.

3 – Get the ‘numerino

Some Italian pharmacies have a ticket-dispensing machine with the aim of regulating the queue – a concept which is still foreign to many across the country.

All customers are expected to get a numbered paper ticket (the famed ‘numerino’) from the above machine and wait for their number to be called to walk up to the pharmacist’s desk. 

Now, the law of the land categorically prohibits customers from getting within a five-metre radius of the desk without a numerino

Also, trying to break that rule may result in a number of disdainful sideways glances from local customers.

4 – You cannot escape the in-store conversations, so embrace them 

Pharmacies aren’t just stores. They’re a cornerstone of Italian life and locals do a good deal of socialising on the premises. 

After all, the waiting times are often a bit dispiriting, so how can you blame them for killing the time?

Small pharmacy in Italy

Pharmacies are an essential part of Italian life and culture. Photo by Marco SABADIN / AFP

You might think that locals won’t want to talk to you because you’re a foreigner or don’t know the language too well, but you’ll marvel at how chatty some are.

While chit-chat might not be your cup of tea, talking with locals might help you improve your Italian, so it’s worth a shot.

5 – “Vuoi scaricarlo?”

The pharmacist finally gets you what you need and you’re now thinking that your mission is over. Well, not yet.

Before charging you for the items in question, the pharmacist will ask you whether you’d like to ‘scaricarli’ (literally, ‘offload them’) or not, which, no matter how good your Italian is, will not make any sense to you.

What the pharmacist is actually asking you is whether you want to link the purchase to your codice fiscale (tax code). 

READ ALSO: Codice fiscale: How to get your Italian tax code (and why you need one)   

That’s because Italy offers residents a 19-percent discount on some health-related expenses, which can be claimed through one’s annual income declaration (dichiarazione dei redditi) by attaching the receipts of all the eligible payments.

Whether you want to scaricare or not, this is the last obstacle before you can make your way back home.

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