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EXPLAINED: How will Italy’s Covid restrictions change in December?

From the green pass to yellow zones, Italy will see tightened health measures next month as the government brings in updated rules aimed at controlling coronavirus infection rates.

A cafe in Rome displays Christmas decorations.
The Italian government says ‘super green pass’ rules will allow more businesses to stay open this winter. Photo: Vincenzio Pinto/AFP

Italy’s Covid-19 contagion curve has been rising in recent weeks as the country battles a fourth wave of coronavirus infections.

In a bid to flatten the curve, on Wednesday evening Italy’s Council of Ministers unanimously approved a new decree that tightens Covid restrictions and will come into force from December 6th.

The new rules are designed to incentivise vaccine uptake by increasing restrictions for those who have yet to get the vaccine.

READ ALSO: Italy to impose ‘super green pass’ Covid restrictions on unvaccinated

Speaking at a televised press conference last Monday, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the restrictions would mean a “normal” Christmas this year for those who are vaccinated, and would “give certainty to the tourist season”.

Here’s what changes next month:

‘Super green pass’ only for the vaccinated and Covid-recovered

From December 6th, Italy will introduce the ‘super green pass’.

The country’s basic Covid-19 health certificate or ‘green pass’ is currently required to enter workplaces, take long distance public transport, and enter most cultural, leisure, sports and entertainment venues across the country.

As things currently stand, the green pass proves the holder is vaccinated against or has recently recovered from Covid-19, or has tested negative for the virus in the preceding two-to-three days (depending on the type of test used).

A green pass has been required to enter most cultural sites and sports and entertainment venues in Italy since August 6th.

A green pass has been required to enter most cultural sites and sports and entertainment venues in Italy since August 6th. Photo: Andreas SOLARO / AFP

However, once the new decree comes into force on December 6th, only the ‘super green pass’ – that is, only a green pass that certifies the holder is vaccinated against or recently recovered from the virus – will be accepted in most instances.

READ ALSO: Q&A: How will Italy’s new Covid ‘super green pass’ work?

Health certificates obtained via a test will be valid only to enter the workplace, stay in hotels, and access local public transport, which takes us to our next point:

Green pass required in more places

Until now, a green pass has been required to use public transport only for long-distance journeys: domestic flights, ferries, and interregional trains. 

From December 6th, that will change, as a green pass will also be required to access local public transport, including buses, trams, metros and regional train services.

An ordinary green pass received via a negative coronavirus test will be valid for using all public transport, including long-distance public transport.

A basic green pass will also be required for the first time to stay in hotels, which until now have been one of the few places in Italy exempted from the requirement; and in sports centre changing rooms.

As in the case of local public transport, a green pass obtained through a negative coronavirus test result will be valid for hotel stays and to enter changing rooms.

The ‘super green pass’ will be required for all other situations (bar entering the workplace) which currently require a green pass, including to dine indoors at restaurants, enter most tourist and cultural sites, and attend shows and sports matches.

Vaccine mandate extended to more key workers

It is already compulsory for healthcare workers in Italy, including pharmacy staff and care home workers, to be vaccinated under a law approved in April.

From December 15th, that requirement will be extended to administrative staff working in healthcare facilities and care homes, school staff and employees of adult education training centers, prison staff, police officers, members of the military, and emergency services workers.

The requirement also applies for the third or ‘booster’ dose of the vaccine, which is currently available to anyone aged 40 and over in Italy as well as all healthcare workers and the medically vulnerable, and will be offered to anyone over the age of 18 from December 1st.

READ ALSO: Italy to offer Covid boosters to all over-18s from December 1st

Vaccines will be compulsory for a range of key workers in Italy from December 6th.

Vaccines will be compulsory for a range of key workers in Italy from December 6th. Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

The Italian health ministry recently approved a reduction in the required interval between the completion of the initial vaccine cycle and the booster shot. It is now possible to receive a booster five months (as opposed to six months) after completing the initial cycle.

‘Super green pass’ to expire after nine months

Previously, a green pass received as a result of vaccination against or recovery from Covid was valid for 12 months.

That period is now reduced to nine months, amid indications that protection from the vaccine appears to diminish faster than previously thought.

Possible return to ‘yellow’ zone for some regions

Currently, most of Italy is in the least restricted ‘white’ zone, with the exception of the northeastern region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, which on Monday entered the more restricted ‘yellow’ zone.

Several other Italian regions are expected to join Friuli Venezia Giulia in the next few weeks, as they approach the government’s threshold for yellow zone restrictions.

Italy has a four-tier system for coronavirus restrictions, with ‘orange’ zones operating under a higher level of restrictions than yellow zones and ‘red’ zones subject to the strictest limitations.

Under a law introduced in July, an Italian region must be returned to ‘yellow’ zone status 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. 

Although currently yellow zone areas are subject to certain restrictions (such as limiting the number of diners at a restaurant to four per table), the government has said that the new ‘super green pass’ will allow events and activities that would otherwise be shut down in yellow and orange zones to remain open as normal for those who hold the pass.

These include shows (such as theatre performances), parties, nightclubs, sporting events, as well as “indoor catering” and “public ceremonies” which would appear to cover large events such as weddings.

Friuli Venezia Giulia’s governor has reportedly signed an agreement with the government to bring forward the region’s use of the super green pass to allow its vaccinated and Covid-recovered residents to access services as normal from Monday.

The region will therefore serve as a test case for implementing the new rules.

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‘Not offensive’: Italian minister defends Covid testing rule for China arrivals

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani defended the policy of testing all arrivals from China for Covid-19 after Beijing said the policy "lacks scientific basis".

'Not offensive': Italian minister defends Covid testing rule for China arrivals

“It seems perfectly normal to me,” Tajani told Italian state broadcaster Rai on Tuesday. “Having a test is a way to protect people’s health. There is nothing offensive about it.”

“Lots of Chinese and Italians coming from China do it (anyway),” he claimed.

READ ALSO: Is the EU likely to reinstate Covid travel restrictions?

Italy was the first European country to make testing on arrival a requirement for passengers arriving on flights from China last week, after a surge in the infection rate there.

Italian Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said on Wednesday that the screening requirement was “essential to ensure the surveillance and identification of any variants of the virus in order to protect the Italian population”.

READ ALSO: Italy pushes for EU-wide China Covid measures as tests show no new variants

France and Spain have since introduced similar rules (as well as non-EU countries including the UK and USA) and there is now a meeting scheduled for Wednesday of the EU Integrated Policy Response Capability to discuss coordinating measures.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said the screening policy would be “ineffective” if not done on a European level, as only people arriving on direct flights from China were being tested in Italy, not those with stopovers.

But the Chinese government on Tuesday hit out at countries introducing a policy of mandatory testing for people arriving from China.

“Some countries have taken entry restrictions targeting only Chinese travellers,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning was quoted as saying at a briefing by AFP.

“This lacks scientific basis and some practices are unacceptable”.

She said Beijing may “take countermeasures based on the principle of reciprocity”.