Italy’s Sicily and Sardinia to remain Covid ‘white’ zones despite rise in hospitalisations

The island regions of Sardinia and Sicily were expected to be placed under ‘yellow’ zone restrictions from Monday after new infections soared and they met the threshold for hospitalised Covid patients.

Italy's Sicily and Sardinia to remain Covid 'white' zones despite rise in hospitalisations
Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Health agency Agenas had said earlier on Thursday that the numbers reported in both regions were high enough to warrant a move to the yellow zone.

Infection rates have spiked in recent weeks on the popular holiday islands, with many outbreaks blamed on partying holidaymakers from Italy and abroad.

But both islands will stay in the lowest-risk ‘white’ zone, and no regions will change colour this week, according to the weekly report from the Higher Health Institute (ISS) and the health ministry.

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

Sicily has presented data that show it can stay in the white zone, the report said, adding that hospital admission and ICU occupancy rates are “steady”, despite being high.

Every region has been ‘white’ under Italy’s four-tiered system of restrictions since the end of June.

Having ‘yellow zone’ restrictions reimposed would, among other rules, mean a return to wearing a face mask in all public places, both indoors and outdoors, and the return of limits on restaurant opening hours and group sizes at tables.

As several regions risked a yellow zone classification in July due to sharply rising infection rates, the Italian government responded by changing the parameters of the zones, making it more difficult for a region to change from white to yellow.

Under the new parameters, a region becomes 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.

Sicily has now reached all three limits, while Sardinia has met two, according to data from Agenas.

Sardinia now has the highest incidence of weekly cases per 100,000 inhabitants of any Italian region, reaching 147. Sicily’s number is 140.

Sicily has a 10% occupancy rate for intensive care, at the upper limit of the threshold, while its hospital admission rate is 17%.

Sardinia has an ICU occupancy rate of 9% and a general hospital admissions rate of 10%.

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

While Sardinia’s authorities had promised 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 were diverted to fighting wildfires all across the region.

Meanwhile some of Sicily’s smaller islands have placed new curbs on nightlife and day trips after illegal parties and crowding was blamed for a surge in new cases locally.

18 regions remain classified as moderate risk for Covid-19, marking a worsening trend for infection rates and hospitalisations

The remaining three regions, Lombardy, Veneto and Lazio, are classified as low risk.

After a spike last week in the nationwide average Rt number, which shows the rate of new infections, the rate has gone back down again on Friday – from 1.7 to 1.1.

There is a “high proportion of young and asymptomatic subjects,” which must be monitored, the health ministry report said.

“The current impact of the disease on hospital services is limited,” it reads, “however the occupation rates and the number of people hospitalised in the medical and intensive care areas are on the rise. The estimated transmissibility on hospitalized cases alone is above the epidemic threshold”.

There were 7,260 new positive cases recorded in Italy over the last 24 hours, according to data from the Ministry of Health, and 55 deaths.

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

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‘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”.