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Which parts of Italy could be declared Covid risk zones in August?

Northern Sardinia. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP
With Italy's peak summer season well underway, some regions may lose their low-risk 'white zone' status this month amid a worsening Covid-19 health situation - while some localised 'red zones' have already been declared. Here are the latest indications on which regions could face tighter restrictions based on health data.

Two Italian regions are at risk of moving into a low-moderate risk ‘yellow zone’ in the coming weeks, according to the latest government figures.

The islands of Sardinia and Sicily have both recorded rates of infections and hospitalisations which approach the threshold for new restrictions to be imposed.

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Infections are thought to be soaring on the popular holiday islands, with large number of visitors from Italy and abroad travelling there for summer holidays.

While Sardinia had planned to increase health checks on tourists and enforce mandatory testing on arrival this summer, controls have reportedly been lowered instead as the island’s services are diverted to fighting wildfires all across the region.

According to Agenas (The National Agency for Health Services) data, Sardinia now has the highest incidence of weekly cases per 100,000 inhabitants of any Italian region, reaching 142 – approaching the maximum limit of 150 necessary to remain in the low-restriction ‘white zone’.

The Italian government changed the risk criteria in May, affecting how and when a region moves into a higher tier and the rules that follow.

Under the new parameters, a region will move from ‘white’ to a ‘yellow’ zone if the following thresholds are reached at the same time:

  • The incidence of weekly cases of infection per 100,000 inhabitants is between 50 and 150.
  • The occupancy rate of intensive care units exceeds 10 percent.
  • Occupancy reaches 15 percent in the case of general hospital wards.

Sardinia has already exceeded two of these three parameters for leaving the white zone and would therefore be likely to be the first region to have health measures reimposed.

The island’s incidence rate is over 100 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and the occupancy rate in intensive care is 11 percent.

In fact, according to Agenas (The National Agency for Health Services) data, Sardinia has the worst incidence of weekly cases per 100,000 inhabitants of any Italian region, reaching 142.03.

How Sardinia’s incident rate is increasing on a weekly basis. Source: Agenas

Sicily could also lose its ‘white zone’ status this month, as the region has reached 14 percent occupancy of beds – just one point below the 15 percent threshold.

Meanwhile in intensive care, Sicily has recorded 7.1 percent occupancy.

It has also exceeded the threshold of 50 infections per 100,000 inhabitants by registering over 104.55 Covid-19 cases.

The trends mean that these islands could move into a ‘yellow zone’ within 10-17 days, claimed Giovanni Sebastiani from the Computation of the National Research Council (CNR).

Although not meeting all three parameters to lose ‘white zone’ status, several other regions are also recording higher incidence rates, with Tuscany following Sardinia and Sicily at 119.73 – up from 94.5 the week before.

Italy’s overall increasing incidence rate – not as steep as some individual regions. Source: Agenas

Another 11 regions have between 50 and 100 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, including Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Emilia Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Lazio, Liguria, Marche, Umbria, Valle d’Aosta and Veneto.

What happens if a region is declared a ‘yellow zone’?

Should any region move from white to yellow, the main difference in rules is the obligation to wear a face mask in all public places, both indoors and outdoors.

There would also be a return to limits on how many people can be seated together in restaurants and on seating indoors.

There is no curfew, since that was dropped nationwide in June.

More severe restrictions can also be decided from town to town, as the Italian authorities have the right to enforce tighter measures on a local level in order to contain the spread of the virus and protest local health services.

The first localised ‘red zones’ for months were declared in the southern region of Calabria in recent days, meaning the toughest restrictions apply in two municipalities.

The acting president of the Calabria Region, Nino Spirlì, signed an order which came into force on August 7th for the towns of Africo and Bagaladi, which remains in place until and August 17th and 18th respectively.

He noted “an exponential growth of infections among the resident population, which determines a high incidence, with 52 confirmed active cases of which 92 percent recorded in the last 6 days, among a population of about 3,300 inhabitants”.

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Calabria has a low incidence rate per inhabitant, but the high rate of occupancy of beds for Covid patients prompted the regional authorities to establish fresh restrictions.

The rate is 57.1 per 100,000, while the occupancy rate for hospital beds is already 11 percent.

Calabria has been quick to impose restrictions as its regional health infrastructure is particularly fragile. The poorest region in Italy, it has suffered long-running problems with a dysfunctonal healthcare system and lack of funding caused or worsened by mafia infiltration and corruption in local government. 

Further restrictions could be imposed locally in future in any part of the country that sees a spike in cases putting strain on its health services.

All regions and autonomous provinces are currently classified as having a moderate epidemic risk, according to the latest weekly health data.

“The estimated transmissibility on hospitalised cases alone is above the epidemic threshold,” stated the report.

Italian authorities pointed to the Delta variant as having significant impact on the latest figures, describing it as “largely prevalent in Italy”.

The report added that the variant is associated with an increase in the number of new cases of infection, even if vaccination coverage is high.

The Italian government made its ‘green pass’ health certificate mandatory from August 6th at many cultural and leisure venues as part of efforts to control the spread of the virus and avoid the need for new restrictions or limitations on businesses during the peak summer season.

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