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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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”