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.
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.
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.
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.