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 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.
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.