The minister highlighted that the provision was already contained in the August 6th decree (the latest government decree which dictates Italy’s Covid rules), and “didn’t just come from my head,” reports the Italian news daily Il Messaggero.
He went on to underscore that the exemption was prospective and stressed that for now the requirement to wear a mask remained in place across all schools, but suggested it could provide an incentive to get vaccinated, “not only for the child but for the community.”
Recent coverage of the provision comes amid reports that one third of all Covid-19 cases in August were detected in children and young people between 0-19 years old, caused by the spread of the Delta variant.
More than 92% of school staff across the country are now vaccinated, according to Bianchi, with the rate rising to 100% in some regions including Campania and Puglia.
Since September 1st, teachers and other school staff have been required to show a valid health pass or ‘green pass’ to gain entry to school premises, and as of Thursday it was reported that the government intended to immediately extend the mandate to cleaning companies working in schools and to school canteen staff.
The health certificate proves bearers have been vaccinated with at least one dose, have recovered from Covid-19 within the past six months, or have tested negative in the previous 48 hours. Unvaccinated employees may therefore access school buildings, but must take a pharmacy-administered Covid test every two days at their own expense.
Some experts and health officials in Italy are divided over how long and in what context mask mandates should remain in place.
Franco Locatelli, head of the expert advisory panel to Italy’s health ministry, told Sky News that the end of 2022 is the earliest date that the government might be able to reconsider masking requirements more generally – but noted that everything hangs on the progress of Italy’s vaccination campaign and the possible arrival of new coronavirus variants.
Italy’s undersecretary of health Pierpaolo Sileri has held out the possibility that the requirement to mask up in indoor public spaces could be eliminated, but only in certain circumstances where green pass checks were being conducted.
Meanwhile Dr. Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe foundation for evidence-based medicine, said that he thinks removing masking requirements in classrooms could be a mistake, tweeting: “In the classroom there are not adequate safety conditions to remove the mask even if everyone is vaccinated”.
And while Bianchi has said he considers the prospect of maskless classrooms “a strong signal of the return to normality”, Sergio Abrignani, a member of Italy’s Technical Scientific Committee (CTS), told Sky News that given the infectiousness of the Delta variant, “It would be better to keep wearing masks as much as possible and use protective devices, distancing and ventilation.”