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Covid-19: What changes as all of Italy moves into the low-restriction ‘white zone’ on Monday?

All regions of Italy are allowed to ease the health measures further from Monday, as the whole country was placed in the 'white' zone for the first time.

Covid-19: What changes as all of Italy moves into the low-restriction 'white zone' on Monday?
Photo: Miguel MEDINA / AFP

The Italian health ministry confirmed on Friday that the last region still classed as a ‘yellow’ zone, Valle d’Aosta, would join the rest of the country in the low-risk ‘white’ tier on Monday June 28th, meaning most rules can be relaxed.

“With the decree I just signed, all of Italy will be ‘white’ starting from Monday. It is an encouraging result, but we still need caution and prudence,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza wrote in a Facebook post.

Urging people to remain vigilant, the minister added: “the battle has not yet been won.”

EXPLAINED: When do you still need to wear a mask in Italy?

In practical terms, the difference will be quite small as restrictions were already low across the country,

The main difference when moving from ‘yellow’ to ‘white’ is an end to the limit on the number of guests you can have at home (which is currently four in yellow zones, not including children).

As the government announced earlier this week,.outdoor mask-wearing rules can also be eased in ‘white’ zones from Monday – welcome news across the country where an ongoing heatwave is expected to push temperatures past 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) again in some southern areas this week.

However the mask-wearing requirement has not been removed completely.

Photo: Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Most other measures have already been relaxed, including the midnight-5am curfew, which was scrapped nationwide on Monday June 21st under the national timeline for reopening.

Social distancing rules remain in place in ‘white’ zones, as does a ban on parties and large gatherings at home.

READ ALSO: What are the rules in Italy’s coronavirus ‘white zones’?

The easing of rules comes after a long period beginning in November of full or partial regional lockdowns across the country.

The entire country was made a “yellow zone” last month, which brought more freedoms but maintained the overnight curfew and kept many limits on business opening hours in place.

While all regions are currently now in the lowest-risk category, the country remains under its four-tiered system of restrictions.

If the number of infections rises again, the health ministry can reinstate the ‘yellow’ zone or higher-risk ‘orange’ and ‘red’ zones, all of which have varying sets of rules.

READ ALSO: Italian health experts warn about Delta variant as vaccine progress slows

The Higher Health Institute (ISS) said in a report on Friday the Delta variant now accounted for more than 16% of new cases in Italy, and warned that this variant was more contagious and had the potential to partially elude vaccines.

The ISS report, along with others from Italian health experts and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) this week, called for more sequencing and renewed efforts to increase vaccination coverage in order to prevent the country’s health situation from worsening.

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COVID-19 RULES

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

The new Italian government has announced the end of some remaining Covid health measures. Here's a look at what will - and won't - change.

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

Few Covid-related restrictions remain in Italy today, six months after the nationwide ‘state of emergency’ ended.

The previous government had kept only a handful of precautionary measures in place – which the new government, led by Giorgia Meloni, must now decide whether or not to keep.

The cabinet is holding a meeting on Monday and will issue a decree this week detailing any changes to the health measures.

Many expect the government to scrap all measures entirely by the end of the year, after Meloni and her party criticised the way Mario Draghi’s administration handled the pandemic throughout its tenure. 

Meloni clearly stated in her first address to parliament last Tuesday that “we will not replicate the model of the previous government” when it comes to managing Covid.

READ ALSO: Five key points from Meloni’s first speech as new Italian PM

While she acknowledged that Italy could be hit by another Covid wave, or another pandemic, she did not say how her government would deal with it.

Meanwhile, new health minister Orazio Schillaci issued a statement on Friday confirming the end of several existing measures, saying he “considers it appropriate to initiate a progressive return to normality in activities and behaviour”.

Workplace ban for unvaccinated medical staff

Schillaci confirmed that the ministry will allow doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to return to work after being suspended because they refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Those who refuse vaccination will be “reintegrated” into the workforce before the rule expires at the end of this year, as part of what the minister called a “gradual return to normality”.

They will be allowed to return “in light of the worrying shortage of medical and health personnel” and “considering the trend of Covid infections”, the statement said.

Fines issued to healthcare staff aged over 50 who refused vaccination would also be cancelled, it added.

There were some 1,579 doctors and dentists refusing vaccination at the end of October, representing 0.3 percent of all those registered with Italy’s National Federation of the Orders of Physicians, Surgeons and Dentists (Fnomceo) 

Daily Covid data reports

Schillaci also confirmed in the statement that the health ministry will no longer release daily updates on Covid-19 contagion rates, hospital cases and deaths, saying this would be replaced by a weekly update.

It said it would however make the data available at any time to relevant authorities.

Mask requirement in hospitals to stay?

The requirement to wear face masks in hospitals, care homes and other healthcare facilities expires on Monday, October 31st.

At a meeting on the same day the government is expected to decide whether to extend the measure.

READ ALSO: What can we expect from Italy’s new government?

While the government had looked at scrapping the requirement, it reportedly changed stance at the last minute on Monday after facing heavy criticism from health experts.

Media reports published while the meeting was in progress on Monday said government sources had indicated the measure would in fact be extended.

Confirmation is expected to come later on Monday.

Italy’s face mask rules in care homes and healthcare facilities are up for renewal. Photo by Thierry ZOCCOLAN / AFP

‘Green pass’ health certificate

There is no indication that the new government plans to bring back any requirements to show a ‘green pass’: the digital certificate proving vaccination against or recent recovery from Covid, or a negative test result.

The pass is currently only required for entry to healthcare facilities and care homes, and this is expected to remain the case.

‘Dismantling the measures’

Some of the confirmed changes were strongly criticised by Italy’s most prominent healthcare experts.

Head of the Gimbe association for evidence-based medicine, Nino Cartabellotta, said the focus on cancelling fines for unvaccinated healthcare workers was “irrelevant from a health point of view .. but unscientific and highly diseducative”.

He told news agency Ansa it was “absolutely legitimate” for a new government to discontinue the previous administration’s measures, but that this “must also be used to improve everything that the previous government was unable to do”.

The government should prioritise “more analytical collection of data on hospitalised patients, investments in ventilation systems for enclosed rooms … accelerating coverage with vaccine boosters,” he said.

However, the plan at the moment appeared to be “a mere dismantling of the measures in place,” he said, “in the illusory attempt to consign the pandemic to oblivion, ignoring the recommendations of the international public health authorities”.

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