Day trips and illegal raves blamed for Covid-19 surge in Italy’s tourist hotspots

Crowds and illegal parties in tourist hotspots have caused concern as infections rise and may be putting herd immunity at risk, an Italian virologist has said.

Italy’s summer season has brought an easing of Covid restrictions, opened up travel and along with it, also an increase in the number of illegal parties.

Nightclubs are supposed to remain closed over summer under Italy’s health measures. But hundreds of violations of anti-Covid measures have been recorded on Italy’s holiday islands in recent weeks, including illegal parties and raves, according to Italian media reports.

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

“This virus is changing. We are not dealing with a new virus, but it definitely has a much higher presence in young people,” Fabrizio Pregliasco, virologist at the State University of Milan, said in an interview on Sky TG24 on Tuesday.

“Herd immunity is, unfortunately, at risk. We know this because of this greater predilection in young people,” he added.

Pregliasco also pointed to the virus being much more contagious than it was at the start of the pandemic.

Originally, it had a contagiousness index of 2.5, which means every known infection led to an averageof two-and-a-half more cases. Now the figure is closer to 7, therefore making it “closer to the most contagious infectious diseases such as measles and chickenpox”.

The party hotspots of Sardinia and Sicily are already in danger of losing their lowest-risk ‘white zone’ classification and could soon be subject to new restrictions under the rules of a ‘yellow zone’.

Following worsening epidemiological statistics last week, one island in Sicily has moved to ban tourist boats from docking and has cancelled live concerts in a bid to deter short-term visitors and partygoers.

On the island of Panarea, the smallest of a chain of seven islands around Sicily, 14 out of 15 Covid swabs came back positive with further results awaited, reported Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

READ ALSO: How Italy plans to avoid tightening Covid restrictions this summer despite rising cases

Photo: Giovanni ISOLINO/AFP

The mayor of Lipari – the district that covers all these small islands around Sicily, called the Aeolian islands – has banned day tourists from docking in Panarea.

Mayor Marco Giorgianni issued an ban on vaporetti (small public ferries) arriving from Sicily and Calabria for seven days, saying it was needed due to “crowds in the port area”.

He also banned live concerts and music in pubs and bars during this period.

Ferries can still dock at the other six islands, including the island of Lipari.

There are reportedly around 100,000 tourists currently spread across these seven small islands.

Reader question: What happens if I test positive for Covid-19 while visiting Italy?

Pointing to the problem of slow vaccination rollouts where cases are increasing, Italy’s deputy heath secretary Andrea Costa told news channel La7 last week, “It is not a coincidence that in regions with lower numbers of vaccinated there is a risk of yellow zone – there is a direct link,” reported news agency Ansa.

The news of a coronavirus surge is a blow to areas that promoted themselves as being among Italy’s ‘Covid-free’ islands this summer.

Italy prioritised giving jabs to all residents of popular holiday islands, vaccinating those living or working on the smaller Italian off-shore hotspots where tourism is the main industry.

But Sardinia and Sicily are now approaching the threshold at which they are expected to have ‘yellow zone’ restrictions reimposed which, among other rules, would see a return to wearing a face mask in all public places, both indoors and outdoors.

Meanwhile, most other regions across Italy have been classified as moderate risk for Covid-19, marking a worsening trend for infection rates and hospitalisations.

On Monday, Italy reported 3,674 infections and 24 deaths from Covid-19.

Hospitalisations are on the rise, as is the test positivity rate, which now stands at 5% on average nationwide.

From Monday, young people between the ages of 12 and 18 years old could get their vaccination shot without making a booking, in a bid to speed up coverage of protection against the virus, especially ahead of the new school year.

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Italy lifts mask mandate for private sector workers

Masks will no longer be required in the workplace but Italian companies will have the right to impose restrictions for employees deemed "at risk".

Italy lifts mask mandate for private sector workers

Representatives from the Italian Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Health and all major national unions collectively signed off on Thursday a new “shared protocol” (protocollo condiviso) for the implementation of anti-Covid measures in private workplaces. 

Although the full text of the bill will only be made available to the public sometime next week, portions of the document have already been released to the media, thus disclosing the government’s next steps in the fight against the virus.

The most relevant update concerns face masks, which will no longer be mandatory in private workplaces. 

However, the text specifies, FFP2 face masks remain “an important protective item aimed at safeguarding workers’ health”. As such, employers will have the right to autonomously impose the use of face coverings on categories of workers considered “at risk”.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Notably, face coverings may remain mandatory for those working in “indoor settings shared by multiple employees” or even in “outdoor settings where social distancing may not be practicable”. Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions (soggetti fragili) may also be subject to such rules, which, it is worth reminding, are left to the employer’s discretion. 

Alongside mask-related restrictions, employers will also have the right to have their staff undergo temperature checks prior to entering the workplace. In such cases, anyone with a body temperature higher than 37.5C will be denied access to the workplace and will be asked to temporarily self-isolate pending further indications from their own doctor.

In line with previous measures, companies will be required to continue supplying sanitising products free of charge and regulate access to common areas (canteens, smoking areas, etc.) so as to avoid gatherings.

Additionally, employers will be advised to keep incentivising smart working (lavoro agile), as it has proved to be “a valuable tool to curb infection, especially for at-risk individuals”.

Provided that the country’s infection curve registers no significant changes, the updated protocol will remain in place until October 31st, when it will yet again be reviewed by the relevant governmental and social parties. 

With the latest round of measures, Italy has now scrapped all Covid-related health measures, except the requirement to wear face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings, and self-isolation provisions for those testing positive. 

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

Italy’s infection curve has been rising significantly since the beginning of June. From June 1st to June 14th, Covid’s R (spreading rate) rate rose back over 1 for the first time since April 8th. Also, from June 17th to June 23rd, the virus’s incidence rate was 504 cases every 100,000 residents, up by 62 per cent on the previous week.

According to Claudio Mastroianni, Professor of Infectious Diseases at Sapienza University of Rome, “with 25 per cent of daily Covid swabs coming back positive and a R rate over 1, the infection curve will likely rise at least until mid-July”.

However, albeit acknowledging the rising number of positive cases, Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa has so far categorically excluded the possibility of re-introducing lapsed Covid measures, saying that it’ll be a “restriction-free summer”.