Covid-19: Italy considers removing outdoor mask rule ‘from July or August’

As Italy's coronavirus case numbers fall and temperatures rise, calls are growing for the government to relax the requirement for masks to be worn outdoors.

Covid-19: Italy considers removing outdoor mask rule 'from July or August'
Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

While several countries have recently been debating the issue of whether or not face masks should remain mandatory outdoors, it hasn’t been a major topic of discussion so far in Italy.

But as coronavirus case numbers fall and the temperature rises, calls are now growing for the country’s government to relax its current requirement for masks to be worn at all times in public, including outdoors.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: All of Italy’s regions now ‘low risk’, health ministry says

Some Italian health experts say masks should not be a requirement outdoors this summer – perhaps from mid-July or August, depending on the progress of Italy’s vaccination campaign.

However, many officials continue to stress the importance of following such basic precautions.

Photo: Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

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.

“These decisions were made in order not to expose us to the risk of having to close,” said Franco Locatelli, head of Italy’s Higher Health Institute and coordinator of the government’s scientific advisory panel.

“I think we can talk about [removing the mask requirement] in the second half of July, only outdoors, or even indoors for people who are vaccinated,” Locatelli told Italian newspaper La Stampa on Monday.

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

Italian health undersecretary Andrea Costa meanwhile said the restriction may be removed in August, depending on the progress of the vaccination campaign.

“Continuing at the current pace [of vaccinations], in August we will have over 70 million doses inoculated and over 20 million people in Italy will be fully vaccinated,” he told Italy’s Rai 3 TV channel on Friday.

“If we continue to rightly argue that the vaccine is the only way out of this pandemic, we must also give people perspective and a glimpse of the time when, outdoors, we can begin to think about removing masks.”

“I believe that in August, with the doses administered, this evaluation could be made,” he said.

READ ALSO: Reader question: What kind of coronavirus test do I need to take for travel to Italy?

All of Italy’s regions and autonomous provinces are in the lower-risk ‘yellow’ zone from Monday, as the latest health data on Friday confirmed further improvements to the health situation nationwide.

From early June, almost all restrictions will be dropped in the six Italian regions which will be low-risk ‘white’ zones.

Italy last week announced a revised roadmap for easing its remaining coronavirus restrictions between May and July.

The new plan sets dates for removing almost all rules except for those mandating masks outdoors, and keeping nightclubs and dance venues closed.

Member comments

  1. Outdoor mask rule is ludicrous. For a less than one percent chance of transmission, millions of people have to continue this unhealthy practice. Shameful.

    1. Well, the expression “When in Rome…” comes to mind. The beauty of being a guest in a country is that it is not your responsibility to change the way the country works (and in this case, why it decided to mandate masks – which seems to have worked pretty well..)

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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.