Covid-19: Italian schools set to keep using masks and distancing from September

Italian health experts have recommended that the coronavirus measures in place at the start of the next school year should be kept the same as last year, amid concerns about a possible new wave of infections fuelled by the Delta variant.

Covid-19: Italian schools set to keep using masks and distancing from September
Pupils arriving for the start of the previous school year in September 2020. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Italy’s school pupils and staff are now on their summer break. But when class restarts in September, the health measures aimed at controlling the spread of coronavirus look likely to remain unchanged on a year previously.

Though the Italian education ministry has not yet announced any updates to the rules, the government’s advisory panel of scientific experts, the CTS, said “the measures to be applied for the beginning of the school year 2021-2022 should be the same as those foreseen at the beginning of the previous school year”, Rai reports.

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

This would mean masks for everyone aged over six, single desks and distanced seating, staggered entrance and exit times, and quarantine rules for classes with positive cases, as well as the possibility of some classes still being taught online, depending on the health situation in each local area and the rules provided under Italy’s tiered system of restrictions.

The expert panel noted that vaccinations will likely lead to a reduction in the spread of the virus. However, while 73% of school staff have now had at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, experts said it was “currently not possible to predict” how many pupils will have been vaccinated by September. 

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Italy is currently allowing all local health authorities to offer vaccines to everyone aged over 12, though some regions have said they don’t have the resources to vaccinate these younger age groups immediately.

The CTS recommended to the education ministry that prevention and control measures be kept in place as the reopening of schools will coincide with a “critical period” in the pandemic.

Despite the progress made with vaccinations, it said, the impact of new variants on infection rates, the consequences of summer reopenings and travel, and the return of millions of students and teachers to indoor classrooms “could create the conditions” for a new wave of infections at the beginning of autumn, experts said.

READ ALSO: Italy passes 50 million vaccinations milestone

“It is clear that the Delta variant will become prevalent and, probably, between now and September we will see a rise in infections,“ said Agostino Miozzo, a consultant to the education ministry on the management of the pandemic during the last school year, in an interview with Rai .

“Let us not be under any illusions: it will be another year of living in an emergency, the schools open soon and there will be no miracles,” he said.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

“Obviously it will not be like last year. We will not see peaks in intensive care admissions or hundreds of deaths a day,” Miozzo said, “but we will still be in an unstable situation, with outbreaks developing”.

He pointed out that “in Italy we have more than 2.5 million over-60s still awaiting vaccination, which is a very serious vulnerability in the face of the arrival of the Delta variant,” he said, adding that many people in the higher-risk older age group may work in education.

Miozzo also predicted that vaccinations could eventually become compulsory for school staff, as is already the case for healthcare workers in Italy.

“I believe that, at this stage, we need a strong moral persuasion towards vaccination, but we must look at obligatory vaccination for those in contact with students,” he said. “So if you have the chance to get vaccinated and you refuse, you can’t go to class.”

He said it was too early to think about requiring compulsory vaccines for students, but stressed that “we need to guarantee all students the opportunity to get vaccinated, from the oldest to the youngest”.

“Of course. we must work hard on communication to reassure parents about the safety of vaccines and the usefulness of protection,” he said.

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Italy allows suspended anti-vax doctors to return to work

Italian heathcare staff suspended over their refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19 can now return to work, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni confirmed on Monday.

Italy allows suspended anti-vax doctors to return to work

Italy become the first country in Europe to make it obligatory for healthcare workers to be vaccinated, ruling in 2021 that they must have the jab or be transferred to other roles or suspended without pay.

That obligation had been set to expire in December, but was brought forward to Tuesday due to “a shortage of medical and health personnel”, Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said.

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

Italy was the first European country to be hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, and has since registered nearly 180,000 deaths.

Schillaci first announced the plan to scrap the rule on Friday in a statement saying data showed the virus’ impact on hospitals  “is now limited”.

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”.

Meloni said the move, which has been criticised by the centre-left as a win for anti-vax campaigners, would mean some 4,000 healthcare workers can return to work.

This includes some 1,579 doctors and dentists refusing vaccination, according to records 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) 

Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy party railed against the way Mario Draghi’s government handled the pandemic, when it was the main opposition party, and she promised to use her first cabinet meetings to mark a clear break in policies with her predecessor.