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HEALTH

Covid-19: Three Italian regions turn ‘white’ as case numbers continue to fall

Several of Italy's regions are allowed to drop most Covid-19 restrictions from Monday, as new cases and deaths in the country have fallen to a seven-month low.

Covid-19: Three Italian regions turn 'white' as case numbers continue to fall
Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP
Three Italian regions – Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Molise and Sardinia – are under ‘white zone’ rules from Monday 31st May, following the latest ordinance signed by the health minister on Friday.
 
Abruzzo, Veneto, Liguria and Umbria will turn white the week after, the government has said.
 
These regions are being downgraded from ‘yellow zone’ risk status to ‘white’ as planned, as the health data continues to improve across the country.

Under ‘white zone’ restrictions, regions can drop most of the restrictions currently in place in yellow zones, including the evening curfew and the restrictions on opening hours for businesses, including restaurants.

EXPLAINED: How has Italy changed the way it decides regional Covid-19 rules?

Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP

The regions moving into white zones will be able to drop the last remaining restrictions, and reopen indoor restaurants and bars, fairs, theme parks, conferences and indoor swimming pools and hold weddings earlier than planned under the national roadmap for reopening.

So far, only mask-wearing and social distancing rules must remain in place in white zones, the health minister has said.

For now, nightclubs and discos are still suspended and it is not known if or when Italy may relax the rules on wearing masks outdoors.

And the final set of rules in each region depends on the local authority, as each is free to impose stricter restrictions than those set by the national government.

The regions moving into the low-restriction white zone have registered fewer than 50 coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants for three weeks consecutively – the threshold for determining white zone eligibility.

In fact, they have all hit very low levels with the figure at 17 for Friuli-Venezia-Giulia 13 for Sardinia and 12 in Molise.

MAP: Which parts of Italy will become Covid-19 ‘white zones’ in June?

All indicators in the nation’s latest weekly coronavirus monitoring report, compiled by Italian health ministry and the Higher Health Institute (ISS), showed another decrease in the coronavirus numbers.

The national average weekly coronavirus incidence rate and Rt number had fallen again, while the average daily number of new coronavirus cases is now below 4,000 for the first time since October 10th, the latest data showed on Friday.

Italy on Sunday recorded 44 deaths from Covid-19, the lowest daily tally in more than seven months as the country continues to make progress with its coronavirus vaccinations.

READ ALSO: Italy’s coronavirus infection rate falls to lowest level since October

Though the reported numbers are always lower on Sundays and Mondays, this is the lowest number of deaths since October 14th, when the country had 43 fatalities.

Italy’s total death toll from the pandemic now stands at 126,046, according to Civil Protection Agency and Health Ministry data.

The number of people with an active coronavirus infection fell by 3,670 to 236,296, another seven-month low.

Meanwhile, Italy has now administered 34.2 million vaccine doses and 11.8 million people – nearly 20 percent of the population – have been fully vaccinated, the government said.

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Italy’s deputy health minister under fire after casting doubt on 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 after casting doubt on Covid vaccines

Gemmato, a 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.

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