Will Italy relax the Covid mask-wearing rules this summer?

As Italy moves toward the next phase of reopening and relaxing its coronavirus rules, the government is looking at whether face masks should remain mandatory in outdoor public places.

Will Italy relax the Covid mask-wearing rules this summer?
Mask rules have been eased in Italy except for on public transport - though they remain recommended in crowded places. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Italy has been one of the most pro-mask countries in Europe since the start of the pandemic, but the Italian government and its panel of scientific experts are now weighing up when to drop, or at least relax, the current requirements.

If you live in Italy, grabbing your mascherina before heading out is probably second nature by now. 

Wearing a face mask in busy public areas has been mandatory since May 2020, and the rules were tightened up again in October 2020 to require mask-wearing at all times in public, indoors or outdoors. The rules are backed up with steep fines for non-compliance.

Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

There has been little resistance to, or pressure to remove, the mask-wearing rules in Italy, where in the early days of the pandemic many people wore face masks in the street voluntarily months before requirements were brought in.

Though after months of sweaty mouths and steamed-up glasses, some people are now wondering when Italy’s vaccination campaign will progress to the point where masks are no longer deemed necessary.

Not least international tourists, for whom the prospect of having to wear a mask in the summer heat while strolling along the lungomare is probably not an enticing one.

READ MORE: What will Italy’s coronavirus rules be for summer 2021?

So far, the Italian government has stressed that safety precautions must stay in place this summer, as it doesn’t expect to have the majority of the population fully vaccinated until autumn.

But as the government puts the final touches to its latest round of rule changes, set to come into force as soon as next week, there are suggestions that it could be time to soften the requirement to wear masks outdoors at all times.

Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Health Undersecretary Pierpaolo Sileri said on Monday that people should no longer have to wear masks outside once 30 million people, approximately half of the Italian population, have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

“I agree with the hypothesis (of relaxing the rule on wearing facemasks outdoors) when 30 million people are vaccinated with at least one dose of a vaccine,” Sileri said in an interview with Radio 24.

Italy will reach that threshold in mid-June, he estimated this week.

“I think it is sensible to put the mask in your pocket outdoors where there are no crowds, and to put it back on your face when there are gatherings and a risk (of contagion)”. 

The Italian health ministry however has not made any official statement on when or if the rule may be changed.

One thing looks certain however: masks are set to remain mandatory at least in indoor public places in Italy for a while longer yet.

Member comments

  1. The CDC has admitted it “miscalculated” the transmission rate of the virus outdoors. Only a slight “miscalculation” though…it’s actually less than 1% and they claimed 10% based on faulty data. And what about the Stanford peer-reviewed paper that cites the physical and psychological dangers of prolonged mask wearing?

  2. The transmission rate outdoors is 0.1%, far less than the chance of being killed in the car accident in the US (1%) which makes wearing masks outside totally absurd. It’s astounding so many people follow this rule, especially as the authorities have mostly giving up fining those who don’t wear them.

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Italy’s deputy health minister under fire for questioning Covid vaccines

Opposition leaders called for health undersecretary Marcello Gemmato to resign on Tuesday after the official said he was not "for or against" vaccines.

Italy's deputy health minister under fire for questioning Covid vaccines

Gemmato, a trained pharmacist and member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party, made the remark during an appearance on the political talkshow ReStart on Rai 2 on Monday evening.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

In a widely-shared clip, the official criticises the previous government’s approach to the Covid pandemic, claiming that for a large part of the crisis Italy had the highest death rate and third highest ‘lethality’ rate (the proportion of Covid patients who died of the disease).

When journalist Aldo Cazzullo interjects to ask whether the toll would have been higher without vaccines, Gemmato responds: “that’s what you say,” and claimed: “We do not have the reverse burden of proof.”

The undersecretary goes on to say that he won’t “fall into the trap of taking a side for or against vaccines”.

After Gemmato’s comments, the president of Italy’s National Federation of Medical Guilds, Filippo Anelli, stressed that official figures showed the Italian vaccination campaign had already prevented some 150,000 deaths, slashing the country’s potential death toll by almost half.

Vaccines also prevented eight million cases of Covid-19, over 500,000 hospitalisations, and more than 55,000 admissions to intensive care, according to a report from Italy’s national health institute (ISS) in April 2021.

Gemmato’s comments provoked calls for him to step down, including from the head of the centre-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta.

“A health undersecretary who doesn’t take his distance from no-vaxxers is certainly in the wrong job” wrote the leader of the centrist party Action, Carlo Calenda, on Twitter.

Infectious disease expert Matteo Bassetti of Genoa’s San Martino clinic also expressed shock.

“How is it possible to say that there is no scientific proof that vaccines have helped save the lives of millions of people? You just have to read the scientific literature,” Bassetti tweeted. 

In response to the backlash, Gemmato on Tuesday put out a statement saying he believes “vaccines are precious weapons against Covid” and claiming that his words were taken out of context and misused against him.

The Brothers of Italy party was harshly critical of the previous government’s approach to handling the Covid crisis, accusing the former government of using the pandemic as an excuse to “limit freedom” through its use of the ‘green pass’, a proof of vaccination required to access public spaces. 

But since coming into power, Meloni appears to have significantly softened her stance.

Her appointee for health minister, Orazio Schillaci, is a medical doctor who formed part of the team advising the Draghi administration on its handling of the pandemic.

Schillaci, a former dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at Rome’s Tor Vergata University, has described the former government’s green pass scheme as an “indispensable tool for guaranteeing safety in university classrooms”.

Speaking at a session of the G20 on Tuesday, Meloni referenced the role of vaccines in bringing an end to the Covid pandemic.

“Thanks to the extraordinary work of health personnel, vaccines, prevention, and the accountability of citizens, life has gradually returned to normal,’ the prime minister said in a speech.