Italy set to announce new Covid restrictions to fight surge in cases

Italy set to announce new Covid restrictions to fight surge in cases
Italy is set to expand its vaccination mandate and health pass requirement in response to the rising Omicron wave..  Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP
The Italian government is holding talks on Thursday to decide new measures aimed at controlling the spread of Covid-19, after confirmed cases soared by almost 50 percent in a week.

**Please see the latest update on this story here**

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi met with members of the government’s panel of scientific experts on Thursday morning to discuss new measures intended to combat the latest wave of infections in Italy.

A new decree is expected to focus mainly on tightening the rules on using Italy’s ‘green pass’ Covid health certificate, and also on extending the country’s vaccine mandate to more groups, with Draghi stressing on Wednesday that “vaccines remain the best weapon we have against the virus”.

Italian news agency Ansa reports that the prime minister has called a meeting of the Council of Ministers, the government cabinet, for 5pm on Thursday at which a decision is set to be made on the incoming rule changes, with an announcement expected later in the evening.

It is not yet known when any changes may come into effect.

The move comes as Italian health ministry data published on Thursday showed the coronavirus infection rate in Italy had soared by 47 percent in the past seven days. Italy recorded more than 30,000 cases in one day on Tuesday – the highest daily figure in 13 months.

The death count also continued to rise, with 153 Covid-related deaths recorded on Tuesday compared to 137 on Monday.

The new decree is expected to cover domestic restrictions only, and there is no indication so far that there will be any changes to Italy’s rules on international travel.

While nothing has been officially confirmed, it appears unlikely that the government is planning to bring in lockdown measures or restrictions on private gatherings over the festive period.

“For now we are not talking about lockdown for the unvaccinated, but everything is on the table,” Draghi said at the traditional end-of-year prime minister’s press conference on Wednesday.

Current Italian rules already place some additional restrictions on those who are unvaccinated, as it’s not possible to enter certain cultural or leisure venues without a reinforced or ‘super’ green pass proving vaccination or recovery.

The government is considering expanding compulsory vaccination to even more categories, after extending the vaccine requirement to teachers, police and rescue workers on December 15th. The rule has applied to all healthcare workers since April.

EXPLAINED: Who does Italy’s new Covid vaccine mandate apply to?

“I want to point out that two thirds of intensive care units are occupied by unvaccinated people,” he said, adding that the possibility of Italy bringing in a vaccination mandate for the general public  “remains in the background”.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi gives a year-end press conference on December 22nd, 2021 in Rome. Photo: STRINGER/ANSA/AFP

“It has never been ruled out. We will evaluate [on Thursday] whether to extend it to others.”

Noting that Italy had administered 15.6 million booster doses so far, Draghi urged “all citizens to continue getting vaccinated, to take the third dose, this is the priority.”

Draghi did not confirm or rule out an expected new requirement for vaccinated people to be tested in order to access to large public events, or a long-discussed return of the outdoor mask mandate.

“Everything is necessary to defend what little normality we have achieved,” he said, adding that Italy’s public health decisions “are guided by data, not politics.”

One thing Draghi did rule out was any extension of school holidays after the Christmas period.

“If necessary we will strengthen screening in schools,” he said. “It’s necessary to test and vaccinate everyone and today that includes children.”

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