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How long will Italy keep the Covid green pass requirement in place?

As France discusses when and how its health pass rules could be eased, Italy is preparing a major expansion of its requirements from Friday. How long is the Italian system likely to last?

Italy's green pass is already required for accessing venues including museums.
Italy's green pass is already required for access to many venues in Italy, and will be extended to all workplaces from Friday, October 15th. Photo: Andreas SOLARO/AFP

The EU-wide health pass was first introduced on July 1st this year to facilitate quarantine-free travel, and several countries including Italy and France have since extended their versions of the pass to domestic use, for example at leisure venues and on some forms of public transport.

Italy has now taken the requirements a step further than its neighbours, making its Covid health pass a requirement for all employees as well as customers at all public or private sector workplaces under rules coming in from Friday, October 15th.

READ ALSO: Italy’s vaccination campaign slows as ‘green pass effect’ fails to materialise

There have been protests across the country against the expansion, with some of the estimated 10,000 people attending an anti-vaccination and anti-green pass protest in Rome on Saturday saying the requirement will prevent them from going to work or could impact their businesses.

An estimated 4-5 million people of working age remain unvaccinated in Italy, according to government figures, and unless they’ve recently recovered from Covid their only other way of accessing the ‘green pass’ is via testing every 2-3 days at their own expense.

Protestors demonstrate against the green pass system in Rome. Photo: Andreas SOLARO/AFP

But the Italian government insists the measure is necessary in order to keep the infection rate down and boost vaccination coverage in the country, particularly as the uptake rate has slowed dramatically in recent weeks.

While Italy is toughening its green pass requirements, there’s talk of potentially easing the pass sanitaire (health pass) rules in.France – which has a higher rate of the population fully immunised (nearly 90 percent, compared to Italy’s 80 percent).

The French government has said this could happen as soon as November 15th, when the country’s current rules expire.

In Italy however,  the system is set to stay in place for at least a little longer than that.

The decree passed in September on the expansion of the green pass requirement to workplaces specifies that the rule is in force “from October 15, 2021 and until December 31, 2021, at the termination of the state of emergency”.

OPINION: Italy’s Covid health pass is a necessary step – but what’s next?

While it’s not impossible that the government could revoke measures earlier, this hasn’t happened with any of Italy’s other coronavirus-related restrictions so far.

Ministers have indicated that the system could be reviewed, at the earliest, by the beginning of next year.

Health Undersecretary Andrea Costa said in an interview on Rainews24 on Monday: “It’s reasonable to think that in the new year there may be a revision of the restrictions currently in place in our country, including the green pass.”

He stopped short of saying the system would be scrapped, but said it “may be reviewed and its application reduced”.

“We will not live with the green pass forever, it is temporary,” another junior health minister, Pierpaolo Sileri, told Italy’s Radio 24 last week.

He added that the length of time the system will stay in place “all depends on the circulation of the virus.”

“When you go from a pandemic to an endemic state, with minimal virus circulation, then the green pass will no longer be needed,” he said.

“I believe that 2022 will be the year of the turning point.”

Over 80 percent of the Italian population is now fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Photo: Marco BERTORELLO/AFP

However, it’s not yet known if Italy’s state of emergency – the set of rules which allows coronavirus containment measures to be introduced by government decree – will be extended beyond December 31st.

If the state of emergency is extended again beyond December 31st, it could also lead to an extension of the green pass obligation for all workers.

At the moment it’s not clear what the government plans to do, with any future changes or extensions of current rules or the state of emergency to depend on the development of the health situation throughout autumn and into winter.

EXPLAINED: How Italy will enforce the new ‘green pass’ rules in all workplaces

Sileri indicated that the green pass rules would be reviewed at around the same time as the state of emergency “if the data continue to be positive, if the numbers of hospitalised patients continue to fall, if the number of vaccinated continue to rise.”

Ministers and health experts have credited the green pass system with keeping Italy’s coronavirus infection and hospitalisation rates relatively low and stable since the system was expanded to domestic use in early August, and preventing the need for renewed business closures and travel restrictions like those seen in 2020 and early 2021.

Italy’s health ministry on Tuesday reported 2,494 new infections and 49 Covid deaths nationwide over the previous 24 hours.

Italy also had a rate of 77 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants over the past 14 days, according to ECDC data.

The same rate in France was 106 and in Germany 131.

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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.”