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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Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

The health ministry is reviewing its quarantine requirements as the country's Covid-19 health situation improved again this week, according to Italian media reports.

Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

Italy has taken a more cautious approach to Covid in recent months than many of its European neighbours, keeping strict isolation rules in place for anyone who tests positive for the virus.

But this could be set to change in the coming days, according to media reports, as one of Italy’s deputy health ministers said the government is about to cut the isolation period for asymptomatic cases.

“Certainly in the next few days there will be a reduction in isolation for those who are positive but have no symptoms,” Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa said in a TV interview on the political talk show Agorà on Tuesday.

“We have to manage to live with the virus,” he said.

Italy’s La Stampa newspaper reported that the compulsory isolation period could be reduced to 48 hours for those who test positive but remain asymptomatic – provided they subsequently test negative after the day two mark.

Under Italy’s current rules, vaccinated people who test positive must stay in isolation for at least seven days, and unvaccinated people for ten days – regardless of whether or not they have any symptoms.

READ ALSO: How tourists and visitors can get a coronavirus test in Italy

At the end of the isolation period, the patient has to take another test to exit quarantine. Those who test negative are free to leave; those who remain positive must stay in isolation until they get a negative test result, up to a maximum of 21 days in total (at which point it doesn’t matter what the test result says).

Health ministry sources indicated the new rules would cut the maximum quarantine period to 15 or even 10 days for people who continue to test positive after the initial isolation period is up, La Stampa said.

The government is believed to be reviewing the rules as the latest official data showed Covid infection and hospitalisation rates were slowing again this week, as the current wave of contagions appeared to have peaked in mid-July.

However, the national Rt number (which shows the rate of transmission) remained above the epidemic threshold, and the number of fatalities continued to rise.

The proposed changes still aren’t lenient enough for some parties. Regional authorities have been pushing for an end to quarantine altogether, even for people who are actively positive – an idea Costa appears sympathetic to.

“The next step I think is to consider the idea of even eliminating the quarantine, perhaps by wearing a mask and therefore being able to go to work,” he told reporters.

“We must review the criteria for isolation, to avoid blocking the country again”.

At least one health expert, however, was unenthusiastic about the proposal.

Dr Nino Cartabellotta, head of Italy’s evidence-based medicine group Gimbe, tweeted on Tuesday: “There are currently no epidemiological or public health reasons to abolish the isolation of Covid-19 positives”

Massimo Andreoni, professor of Infectious Diseases at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the Tor Vergata University of Rome, was more ambivalent about the prospect.

The isolation requirement for asymptomatic cases should be “revised somewhat in the light of the epidemiological data”, he told reporters, but urged “a minimum of precaution, because the less the virus circulates and the fewer severe cases there are, the fewer new variants arise”.

When the question was last raised at the end of June, Health Minister Roberto Speranza was firmly against the idea of lifting quarantine requirements for people who were Covid positive.

“At the moment such a thing is not in question,” he told newspaper La Repubblica at the time. “Anyone who is infected must stay at home.”