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HEALTH

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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MONKEYPOX

Semen ‘a vehicle’ for monkeypox infection, say Italian health experts

Researchers in Italy who were first to identify the presence of monkeypox in semen are broadening their testing, saying early results suggest sperm can transmit infection.

Semen 'a vehicle' for monkeypox infection, say Italian health experts

A team at Rome’s Spallanzani Hospital, which specialises in infectious diseases, revealed in a study published on June 2nd that the virus DNA was detected in semen of three out of four men diagnosed with monkeypox.

They have since expanded their work, according to director Francesco Vaia, who said researchers have found the presence of monkeypox in the sperm of 14 infected men out of 16 studied.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How is Italy dealing with rising monkeypox cases?

“This finding tells us that the presence of the virus in sperm is not a rare or random occurrence,” Vaia told AFP in an interview.

He added: “The infection can be transmitted during sexual intercourse by direct contact with skin lesions, but our study shows that semen can also be a vehicle for infection.”

Researchers at Spallanzani identified Italy’s first cases of monkeypox, found in two men who had recently returned from the Canary Islands.

The latest results reported by Vaia have not yet been published or subject to peer review.

Since early May, a surge of monkeypox cases has been detected outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic. Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.

More than 3,400 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the World Health Organisation from more than 50 countries this year.

The vast majority of cases so far have been observed in men who have sex with men, of young age, chiefly in urban areas, in “clustered social and sexual networks”, according to the WHO.

It is investigating cases of semen testing positive for monkeypox, but has maintained the virus is primarily spread through close contact.

Meg Doherty, director of the WHO’s global HIV, hepatitis and sexually-transmitted infection programmes, said last week: “We are not calling this a sexually-transmitted infection.”

Could antivirals curb the spread of monkeypox?

Spallanzani researchers are now trying to ascertain how long the virus is present in sperm after the onset of symptoms.

In one patient, virus DNA was detected three weeks after symptoms first appeared, even after lesions had disappeared – a phenomenon Vaia said had been seen in the past in viral infections such as Zika.

That could indicate that the risk of transmission of monkeypox could be lowered by the use of condoms in the weeks after recovery, he said.

The Spallanzani team is also looking at vaginal secretions to study the presence of the virus.

A significant finding from the first study was that when the virus was cultured in the lab, it was “present in semen as a live, infectious virus efficient in reproducing itself”, Vaia told AFP.

Vaia cautioned that there remained many unanswered questions on monkeypox, including whether antiviral therapies could shorten the time in which people with the virus could infect others.

Another is whether the smallpox vaccine could protect people from the monkeypox virus.

“To study this we will analyse people who were vaccinated 40 years ago before human smallpox was declared to have disappeared,” Vaia said.

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