Italy’s coronavirus infection rate remains low as Sicily set for return to ‘white’ zone

Italy’s coronavirus infection rate remains low and stable this week as the country continues to reopen, according to the latest official data from the Ministry of Health.

A health worker holds a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Cremona hospital in Cremona, Lombardy, on December 27, 2020.
A health worker holds a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Cremona hospital in Cremona, Lombardy, on December 27, 2020. PIERO CRUCIATTI / POOL / AFP

The ministry’s draft report published on Friday shows that Italy’s Rt rate was 0.83 in the two-week period from September 8th to September 21st, slightly up from 0.82 the preceding week.

Italy had an Rt of 0.85 in the fourteen days between August 25th and September 7th and 0.92 the week before that, previous official reports indicated.

Rt, the effective reproduction number, is the average number of people that one infected person will pass on a virus to – so an Rt of below one means that an infection rate is decreasing.

READ ALSO: Covid crowd restrictions to be relaxed as Italy nears vaccination target

The overall incidence of coronavirus infections across the country continues to decline, at 37 cases per 100,000 inhabitants down from 45 per 100,000 the week before, reports Repubblica.

Numbers of new Covid patient admissions to both intensive care and hospital wards have also continued to decline overall.

The figures bode well for the Italian government’s ambitions to relax coronavirus restrictions in venues across the country in coming weeks.

On Thursday, the government’s scientific advisory panel gave the green light to plans to increase the maximum allowed capacity at stadiums, cinemas and theatres – as long as everyone in the crowd can show the Covid-19 health certificate, or green pass.

Though no date has yet been set for the rule change, it was also announced that sports stadiums will be able to sell tickets up to 75% of their full capacity, compared to 50% at the moment, while cinemas and theatres will be allowed to go up to 80%.

Visitors show their Covid-19 certificates as they pose for a photograph before entering the Colosseum in central Rome on August 6, 2021.

Visitors show their Covid-19 certificates as they pose for a photograph before entering the Colosseum in central Rome on August 6, 2021. Photo: Andreas SOLARO / AFP

There has also been talk of certain restrictions being lifted in schools, with some regional authorities pushing for vaccinated schoolchildren to be exempted from the requirement to quarantine if one of their classmates tests positive for the virus, reports Il Corriere della Sera.

The report, produced jointly by the Ministry of Health and the government’s Higher Institute of Health (ISS), contains good news in particular for Sicily, whose coronavirus incidence numbers and hospital occupation rates have declined in recent days.

The southern island region – currently the only part of Italy under more restricted ‘yellow’ zone rules – now has the figures required to join the rest of the country in the least restricted ‘white’ zone, where it is expected to be placed from Monday.

Under rules introduced by the government in July, a region should be placed in the yellow zone if it has weekly infection rates of 50 new cases per 100 thousand inhabitants, 10 percent or more Covid patient occupancy of intensive care wards, and 15 percent or more Covid patient occupancy of general hospital wards.

Yellow zone restrictions require that masks are worn in all public spaces, including outdoors, and that restaurants may only seat a maximum of four people per table unless the group is cohabiting.

There is no evening curfew, and travel in and out of yellow zones is not restricted.

The central Italian region of Lazio, home to the nation’s capital, is the only area considered by the health ministry and the ISS to be at ‘moderate’ risk of reaching the threshold, with all other regions classed as low risk, according to media reports.

Italy’s government had set a deadline of September 30th for having 80 percent of the population over 12 fully vaccinated.

As of October 1st it had almost reached its target, with 78.5 percent coverage recorded at the latest update to official figures.

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Italy pushes for more vaccinations as Covid incidence rate rises sharply

Italy’s health authorities reported another worsening of the health situation over the past week, with case incidence numbers rising further.

The city of Trieste in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region is currently one of the areas with the highest Covid incidence rates in Italy.
The city of Trieste in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region is currently one of the areas with the highest Covid incidence rates in Italy. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The new coronavirus data monitoring report from Italy’s health ministry and the Higher Health Institute (ISS) released on Friday showed that  the nationwide incidence of coronavirus cases had risen to 78 per 100,000 inhabitants in the week ended November 11th, up from 53 in the week ended November 4th 

The new figures also show that the country’s Rt rose to 1.21 between October 20th and November 2nd, up from 1.15 the week before.

An Rt number above 1 indicates that the epidemic is in a phase of expansion.

READ ALSO: Is Italy likely to bring back Covid restrictions this Christmas?

While the number of residents taking rapid antigen tests has spiked in recent weeks following a mandate for all workers produce an Italian health certificate or ‘green pass’ to access their workplace, the Rt is thought to be unaffected, as only symptomatic cases and hospitalisations are taken into account in calculating the number, reports news agency Ansa.

Green passes are available to everyone who is vaccinated or recently recovered from Covid-19, but can also be obtained by getting a negative test. The requirement to produce a green pass has been in place for all workers in Italy since October 15th.

The occupancy of hospital beds by Covid patients has also risen marginally in the last couple of weeks, to 6.1 percent general ward and 4.4 percent intensive care occupancy as of November 11th, up from 5.3 percent general ward occupancy on October 28th and 4 percent ICU occupancy on November 4th.

The occupancy rates currently remain below those needed to trigger an alert that would require a given Italian region to return from the least-restricted ‘white zone’ to the more restricted ‘yellow zone’ rules.

READ ALSO: Italy’s fourth Covid wave ‘can be reduced’, says health expert


Italy’s government has said a region must face increased restrictions when Covid patient occupancy of ICU beds reaches 10 percent and occupancy of general hospital wards reaches 15 percent; and when case incidence rates are at 50 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Friuli Venezia Giulia is currently considered at high risk of being returned to yellow zone rules, while 20 other regions and autonomous provinces are at moderate risk, reports Ansa. Calabria is the only region classed as low risk.

With millions of Italian residents yet to receive a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, Italy’s politicians and health experts say that more coverage is needed to keep the numbers down.

To stop the curve from rising further “we need to increase first vaccinations among those who have not had it,” said Franco Locatelli, head of the Italian government’s Scientific Technical Committee (CTS), at a press conference last Friday, adding that medical personnel and the elderly also needed to get their boosters to prevent immunity from waning. 

The health ministry now plans to roll out more booster shots as well as aiming to have 90 percent of the eligible population vaccinated.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Wednesday that third doses will be extended to those aged between 40-59 from December 1st.

READ ALSO: How to get a Covid-19 vaccine booster shot in Italy

“We started with the immuno-compromised, the frail, health workers, over 60s and those who had J&J who can have booster shots after six months,” Speranza said in answer to a question in Parliament, news agency Ansa reports.

He said administering more booster shots was “absolutely strategic for our vaccine campaign”.

Health authorities are reportedly aiming to start offering the booster to all age groups from early 2022.