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COVID-19 RULES

Italy extends Covid-19 state of emergency until December 21st

The Italian government has signed off on an extension to the country's state of emergency, keeping it in place until at the end of 2021. Here's what that means in practice.

Italy extends Covid-19 state of emergency until December 21st
Photo : Piero Cruciatti/AFP

With a return to a steadily rising rate of coronavirus cases after weeks of decline, Italy has prolonged the national state of emergency once more.

The latest extension was included in a new decree announced on Thursday evening, which also contains new risk parameters for Italy’s regions and amendments to the ‘green pass’ scheme.

READ ALSO: Italy makes Covid ‘green pass’ mandatory for restaurants, gyms, cinemas and more from August

The state of emergency has already been in place for 18 months. It was first introduced on January 31st 2020, shortly after the first cases of coronavirus were detected in tourists visiting Rome.

Initially, it had a timescale of six months but it has been rolled over several times in accordance with the continuing emergency Covid-19 situation.

What does this mean?

Known as the stato di emergenza in Italian, the declaration of emergency status gives moe power to the government and regional authorities to make changes rapidly in response to a constantly changing health situation.

It’s not the same thing as an emergency decree, or DPCM (Decreto del Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri, legislation issued directly by the prime minister) but rather the condition needed for these emergency laws to be passed.

The Council of Ministers (Italy’s government cabinet), on the proposal of the Prime Minister, has the power to enforce it in agreement with the governors and presidents of autonomous provinces.

Making face masks mandatory, for example, would have normally required a considerable parliamentary process.

The state of emergency has a maximum time limit of validity until January 2022 – the date that marks the two-year limit permitted for this measure.

READ ALSO: What is Italy’s digital ‘green pass’ used for and how do you get it?

Italian law states that a national state of emergency cannot be declared for more than 12 months in one go, and can only be extended for a maximum of 12 months beyond that, making two years in total.

So far, the state of emergency has been extended by between two and six months each time.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi continues to favour a more cautious approach to easing restrictions, drawing on the advice of the Covid-19 emergency commission and scientific advisory panel (the Comitato tecnico scientifico or CTS) – which was set up under the state of emergency rules early on in the pandemic.

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COVID-19 RULES

‘Not offensive’: Italian minister defends Covid testing rule for China arrivals

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani defended the policy of testing all arrivals from China for Covid-19 after Beijing said the policy "lacks scientific basis".

'Not offensive': Italian minister defends Covid testing rule for China arrivals

“It seems perfectly normal to me,” Tajani told Italian state broadcaster Rai on Tuesday. “Having a test is a way to protect people’s health. There is nothing offensive about it.”

“Lots of Chinese and Italians coming from China do it (anyway),” he claimed.

READ ALSO: Is the EU likely to reinstate Covid travel restrictions?

Italy was the first European country to make testing on arrival a requirement for passengers arriving on flights from China last week, after a surge in the infection rate there.

Italian Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said on Wednesday that the screening requirement was “essential to ensure the surveillance and identification of any variants of the virus in order to protect the Italian population”.

READ ALSO: Italy pushes for EU-wide China Covid measures as tests show no new variants

France and Spain have since introduced similar rules (as well as non-EU countries including the UK and USA) and there is now a meeting scheduled for Wednesday of the EU Integrated Policy Response Capability to discuss coordinating measures.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said the screening policy would be “ineffective” if not done on a European level, as only people arriving on direct flights from China were being tested in Italy, not those with stopovers.

But the Chinese government on Tuesday hit out at countries introducing a policy of mandatory testing for people arriving from China.

“Some countries have taken entry restrictions targeting only Chinese travellers,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning was quoted as saying at a briefing by AFP.

“This lacks scientific basis and some practices are unacceptable”.

She said Beijing may “take countermeasures based on the principle of reciprocity”.

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