Italy outlines plan to resist Covid closures as four million students return to school

More than 3,865,000 pupils in Abruzzo, Basilicata, Emilia-Romagna, Lazio, Lombardy, Piedmont, Umbria, Veneto, Valle d'Aosta and the province of Trento headed back to class on Monday, as Italy's education minister Patrizio Bianchi told media he was determined to keep schools open.

Vincenzo PINTO / AFP
Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

“Schools will be the last thing to close in the country,” Bianchi reportedly told the newspapers Corriere della Sera and Repubblica in interviews on Sunday evening.

“It is clearly written in the August 6th decree: if an outbreak is identified in an institution, that institution is isolated. If the contagion is in a classroom, you isolate the class,” he said.

“No longer will we see entire regions with classrooms closed because of Covid. We have chosen a structural approach so that we will never return to DAD (‘didattica a distanza‘, or distance learning).”

READ ALSO: Parents in Italy to require Covid green pass to enter schools

The minister noted that 93% of school staff across the country are now vaccinated, and that two thirds of 12-19 year-olds and 70% of 16-19 year-olds have received an initial dose.

Bianchi restated his ambition to remove mask mandates in classes where all attendees are fully vaccinated, saying “Let’s get started with the year and then we’ll do it, we’re working on the guidelines.”

In recent weeks, Italy’s government has unveiled its strategy for ensuring that pupils can learn in person, after constantly changing Covid restrictions kept them in and out of classrooms for much of the past 18 months.

Since September 1st, all school and university employees including teachers and support staff have been required to produce a green pass upon entering school premises.

On September 9th, that requirement was expanded to include external workers, such as cleaning and canteen staff, as well as parents picking up and dropping off schoolchildren on the premises.

EXPLAINED: What parents should know about the new Covid rules in Italian schools

Photo: Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

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.

School staff who fail to show their pass for five days straight will be suspended and have their pay frozen, while non-staff face fines of up to €1,000 for entering without the pass.

Many of the safety measures that were previously in place will continue into the coming school year, including masks for everyone aged over six, staggered entrance and exit times, and quarantine rules for classes with positive cases.

READ ALSO: Italy considers dropping school mask mandate for fully-vaccinated classes

Schools will have separate designated entrance and exit zones, and only one parent will be allowed to accompany their child directly outside the school building for drop offs and pick ups. Students’ temperatures will be taken as they leave at the end of the school day, but not on arrival.

In the event a teacher or student tests positive for Covid, a quarantine of seven days will be triggered for classmates who are vaccinated, and ten days for the unvaccinated, with affected students moving to distance learning and allowed back into the classroom only after receiving a negative antigen test result.

The question of whether the entire class will be required to quarantine or only the deskmates of the infected person will be left to the discretion of the local health authority, which the school must contact in case of an infection, reports Il Corriere della Sera.

Photo: Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

A new initiative for this school year is a trial of salivary coronavirus tests for under-12s – who are currently unable to get vaccinated – in selected schools across the country.

The scheme, which is designed by Italy’s Higher Institute of Health, will start with tests being performed by trained health personnel at school at the end of September. From November, parents will be asked to administer the tests and deliver them each morning to their child’s school, according to Corriere.

Areas of concern around the reopenings include the widespread use of public transport by students to get to and from school, as well as small classrooms in certain areas.

While the legal limit for class sizes in Italy is now set at 27 students, the size of some of the classrooms themselves has led to worries that some children will be learning in a “chicken coop” context, at a heightened risk of contagion.

In response to the concerns, Bianchi has said that the government is working with local and regional authorities on the issue of public transport, adding that permanent contracts have been provided to 58,900 teachers in order to reduce class sizes.

Schools have already been open since September 6th for students in the autonomous province of Bolzano, and will reopen on Tuesday for those in Sardinia, on Wednesday for those in Campania, Liguria, Marche, Molise and Tuscany, on Thursday for those in Friuli Venezia Giulia and Sicily, and on September 20th for students in Calabria and Puglia.

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What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

Italy is a dream destination for many people, but the spike in Covid-19 cases this summer means visitors could still run into problems. Here is what you need to know.

What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

Italy is full of unique destinations, from beautiful beaches to millennium-old architecture. No wonder the country gets so many visitors every year, especially during the summer months.

However, coronavirus infection rates are increasing in the country. Some regions, including Lazio, where Rome is located, and Veneto, the home of Venice, are classified by the Health Ministry as high risk.

With that in mind, here is what you should know about the pandemic in Italy and what to do in case you test positive.

What are the current entry rules?

First things first: what do you even need to enter Italy? Are there any coronavirus restrictions? The answer is no.

Travel to Italy for any reason, including tourism, is currently allowed without restrictions from all countries. In addition, since June, Italy has scrapped the requirement to show proof of coronavirus vaccination, recent recovery or a negative test from travellers.

There is also no need to fill in any online forms.

What restrictions do exist?

The main Covid-related restriction you will find in Italy is a strict face mask mandate for all forms of public transport, except for flights (domestic and international). These rules should remain in place at least until the end of September.

The masks required are the higher-grade FFP2 masks, and you should wear them on buses, trains, taxis, and all forms of public and shared transport.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

Face masks also remain obligatory in hospitals, care homes and other healthcare facilities.

However, there is no need to wear face masks in public open or indoor public spaces – though it is recommended, especially in crowded areas.

Where can I get tested?

If you want to be on the safe side or have any coronavirus symptoms, it is possible to get tested in Italy.

If you need to get tested while in Italy because you suspect you may have Covid-19, you must minimise your contact with anyone else.

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

The Italian health ministry says you should isolate yourself where you’re staying and call a doctor, Italy’s nationwide Covid hotline (1500), or the regional helpline where you are (complete list here) for assistance.

They will help you arrange an emergency test. Do not go to a medical centre or pharmacy in the meantime.

If you do not have symptoms, tests can be carried out without a prescription at Italy’s airports, pharmacies, labs, testing centres, or even at your accommodation via private doctors.

READ ALSO: The essential Italian phrases you need to know for getting tested and vaccinated

Fast antigen tests are also widely available in pharmacies in Italy.

Anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 in Italy must undergo at least one week of isolation. Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP

What are the self-isolation rules if I test positive?

The health ministry’s current rules state that anyone who tests positive while in Italy is required to immediately self-isolate for a minimum of seven days: that’s if the person in question is fully vaccinated and boosted, or has completed their primary vaccination cycle, or was certified as being recovered from Covid less than 120 days ago.

That period is extended to 10 days for those who aren’t fully vaccinated and also boosted or those who recovered from Covid or completed their primary vaccination cycle more than 120 days ago.

READ ALSO: Italy to keep quarantine rules in place as Covid cases rise

In either case, the infected person must have been symptomless for at least three days to exit quarantine (with the exception of symptoms relating to a lost sense of taste or smell, which can persist for some time after the infection is over).

The patient must also test negative for the virus via either a molecular (PCR) or rapid antigen test on the final day of the quarantine to be allowed out. If you keep testing positive after that, you may stop isolation only at the end of 21 days.

Italy has one of the strictest self-isolation rules, so keep that in mind if you plan your summer holidays here.

Where can I self-isolate?

That will depend. You might be able to stay in your existing accommodation but might also be required to transfer to a state hospital or other government-provided accommodation. Check with the local authorities.

Additionally, you may need to fund accommodation – if only to extend your hotel stay, for example.

What if I need treatment?

If you are an EU citizen, your country’s healthcare can cover state treatments. The same if you are a UK citizen and hold an EHIC or GHIC. The e-card, European health card, EHIC or GHIC will not cover private treatments, though.

If you are a third-country citizen, you must check exactly what your travel insurance covers. In general, people travelling to Europe from abroad are recommended to have travel insurance that covers medical treatments, and you might also be insured through a credit or debit card. So, it is worth checking and planning.

Where can I get more information?

The Italian Health Ministry has a Covid-19 hot site in English for travellers where you can find helpful contact and the latest restrictions and information.