Four regions in Italy at risk of new restrictions as coronavirus cases rise

Italy's rising infection rate fuelled by the highly transmissable Delta variant could see some regions reintroduce measures in the coming weeks, if the health data continues on its current trajectory.

Four regions in Italy at risk of new restrictions as coronavirus cases rise
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Four out of Italy’s 20 regions could lose their lowest-risk ‘white’ zone classification and move back into a low-moderate risk ‘yellow’ zone, according to Italian media predictions based on the latest health figures.

Although not yet confirmed by Italian authorities, Sicily, Campania, Marche and Abruzzo are the regions thought at risk of moving back into the yellow zone.

Coronavirus: Italian health minister urges caution as Delta variant fuels increase in new cases

This means they could face restrictions again after several weeks in the ‘white’ zone, where almost all measures have been dropped.

Italy’s overall infection rate rose slightly last week, the latest monitoring report from Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS) showed, reversing a downward trend that had lasted 15 consecutive weeks.

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza told journalists on Monday that an increase in cases had been expected, saying: “As is known, we monitor all the data weekly, we expected a rise, this rise is underway but with lower numbers than in the past.”

On the question of whether some regions will face new restrictions, he said, “As we have always done, we will rely on our team of technical experts who continue to do this verification work, we will see step by step how things are going.”

The ISS report on Friday showed that these four regions recorded the most dramatic increase in incidence rates.

The incidence rate of cases per 100,000 inhabitants for Italy as a whole increased from 9 to 11, with significant differences between the regions.

Sicily reported 18.2, Marche 15.9, Campania 15.7 and Abruzzo 15.5.

The Marche region in particular showed a sharp increase compared to the previous week’s figure of 6.9.

With a worsening and changing health situation, the parameters that determine the classification of regions into zones could change, reports Italian news agency Ansa.

Photo: Gianluca Chininea / AFP

Regions only qualify for the low-risk ‘white’ zone status if they have fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

If this is exceeded, a region automatically becomes a ‘yellow’ zone in order to reduce pressure on Italy’s health system.

The yellow band is the second-lowest in Italy’s four-tier system of health restrictions. Precautionary measures in place under this tier include the requirement to wear masks at all times in public, which is eased outdoors in white zones.

Covid-19: When do you still need to wear a mask in Italy?

The health ministry’s zone classification is based on two main factors: incidence rate (the number of new cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the past week) and occupancy of hospital beds.

However, deputy health minister Pierpaolo Sileri told Radio 24 in an interview: “At the moment I do not see, with the current numbers, the need for a return to the yellow zone for some regions. To date there is no such risk, but let’s see what happens in the coming weeks.”

“We have low numbers and I do not see the return of restrictions at the moment ,” he added.

Andrea Costa, a health ministry official, echoed Sileri’s comments: “Today we have to look not so much at contagions, but at hospital admissions. The hope and wish is that Italy remains white, but we need to evaluate the data on a daily and weekly basis.”

“To date, the data does not suggest a change of colour,” Costa told RaiNews 24.

Among all regions, the greatest daily increase in cases are reported in Lazio (172), followed by Sicily (150), Emilia Romagna (118), Lombardy (95), Veneto (76), Campania (69), Tuscany (66) and Sardinia (51).

In the other regions the increase was of less than 20 cases.

Italy’s epidemiological situation is taking a downward turn after months of improvement and health officials are warning that the Delta variant could become prevalent within days.

This variant, together with the Kappa strain, accounts for nearly 28 percent of new infections in Italy compared to 5 percent in May, according to the ISS.

The Alpha variant is still dominant in Italy, but is decreasing according to officials, now accounting for almost 58 percent of total coronavirus cases – a drop of 30 percent.

New cases are mainly among those who are unvaccinated or have only had their first dose, the ISS stated.

For further details on the current coronavirus situation in Italy, see the Health Ministry’s website (in English).

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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.”