Covid-19: Italy considers bringing back outdoor mask requirement

The Italian government is considering making it mandatory once again to wear masks outdoors at all times in public, following calls from local authorities for stricter health measures.

People walk in central Milan wearing face masks.
Italy first made masks mandatory in all outdoor public spaces in October 2020 and has since relaxed the rules.  Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The government is “reflecting” on whether it needs to tighten the outdoor mask-wearing rules, Health Undersecretary Andrea Costa said in an interview on TV channel Rai1 on Tuesday.

He noted that mask use is already mandatory outdoors in Italy “in cases where gatherings occur,” adding: “I realise there may be a need to emphasise this rule more clearly at such a delicate moment “.

READ ALSO: ‘Get vaccinated’: Italian virologists urge caution over Omicron Covid variant

“We are facing a period in which it is reasonable to think that there will be a greater concentration of people on our streets,” he said.

“Obviously we are reflecting on this and we will assess things over the next few days”.

Regional leaders have called on the government to tighten the rules in recent days as the infection rate continues to rise across Italy and concern rises about the possible impact of the new Omicron variant after cases were detected in the country over the weekend.

Meanwhile, local authorities in several Italian cities have already announced their own outdoor mask mandates.

Turin has made masks compulsory outdoors from December 2nd-January 15th in the historic centre, at markets and in nightlife areas, news agency Ansa reports.

Bergamo has brought in similar rules from November 27th until January 1st, and Bologna too has mandated masks outdoors in the historic centre between November 26th and January 9th.

Children under the age of six are exempt from mask-wearing rules in Italy.

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

The region of Friuli Venezia Giulia was declared a ‘yellow’ low-moderate risk zone from Monday, meaning masks become mandatory again at all times when outdoors in public, while the rest of Italy currently remains in the lowest-risk ‘white’ zone.

In a bid to keep the spread under control, the governent will implement other tightened health measures from December 6th.

This includes incentivising vaccine uptake by increasing restrictions for those who have yet to get the jab with the introduction of a so-called ‘Super green pass’.

Italy’s current Covid-19 green pass health certificate will no longer allow access to “non-essential” services including leisure and cultural venues unless the bearer is vaccinated against or recovered from Covid-19.

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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”.