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Italy considers dropping school mask mandate for fully-vaccinated classes

Schoolchildren in Italy could be exempted from the requirement to wear a mask in cases where the entire classroom is vaccinated, Education Minister Patrizio Bianchi has said.

Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP
Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP

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.

Handout / AFP

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What parents in Italy should know about new Covid rules in schools

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.

READ ALSO: Italy set to release roadmap for workplace Covid ‘green pass’

RODRIGO BUENDIA / AFP

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.”

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COVID-19 RULES

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”.

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