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Italy’s Sicily region placed back under ‘yellow zone’ restrictions as Covid hospitalisations rise

The Italian island region of Sicily will soon be placed under ‘yellow’ zone restrictions again, after the rate of coronavirus infections and hospitalisations soared in recent weeks.

Italy's Sicily region placed back under 'yellow zone' restrictions as Covid hospitalisations rise
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

“I have just signed a new ordinance that brings Sicily into the yellow zone,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza announced on social media early on Friday evening.

He said the move was “confirmation that the virus is not yet defeated and that the priority is to continue with the vaccination campaign and the prudent and correct behaviour of every one of us.”

The rule change is expected to take effect from Monday. However Speranza did not confirm when the new restrictions would come in, and no further details were immediately available on the health ministry’s website.

Having ‘yellow zone’ restrictions reimposed will, 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.

Italy’s so-called ‘green pass’ will also become compulsory for teachers and on trains and planes across the country from September 1st.

However, further measures were considered necessary in Sicily, where vaccination rates are lower than the national average and where crowds have flocked for the summer season.

Sicily has exceeded all three thresholds for remaining in the low-restriction ‘white’ zone: coronavirus infection incidence rate, hospitalisations and intensive care occupancy.

There are also concerns about the health situation in the regions of Calabria and Sardinia, which are each over the limit for two out of the three parameters.

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

While ten Italian regions were deemed to be ‘moderate risk’ by the latest report from the Italian health ministry on Friday, Sicily is the only Italian region at moderate risk but “with a high probability of progression”.

Sicily has been expected to lose the low-restriction ‘white’ zone classification since last week after the rate of infections and hospitalisations reached critical thresholds.

Some of Sicily’s smaller islands had last week placed new curbs on nightlife and day trips after illegal parties and crowding was blamed for a surge in new cases locally.

Every region has been ‘white’ for more than two months under Italy’s four-tiered system of restrictions.

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.

Italy on Friday reported 7,826 new positive cases and 45 deaths.

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

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COVID-19 RULES

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.”

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