Covid-19: Italy to review quarantine rules as Omicron cases soar

Italy is to review its seven-day Covid quarantine rules for those who are fully vaccinated amid predictions the country could soon see 100,000 new cases a day.

Covid-19: Italy to review quarantine rules as Omicron cases soar
Long lines of people waiting for coronavirus tests were reported outside pharmacies across Italy ahead of Christmas Day. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The Italian government is looking at a possible cut to the existing seven-day quarantine requirement for vaccinated people who have come into contact with someone with Covid-19, the country’s pandemic emergency commissioner said on Monday, amid a surge in the number of positive cases fuelled by the more contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The government’s panel of scientific experts, the comitato tecnico scientifico or technical scientific committee (CTS), will meet on Wednesday to discuss changes following calls from health experts and regional leaders to revise the requirements – at least for those who have had a booster jab.

Calendar: When do Italy’s Covid-19 rules change?

In case of contact with an infected person, Italy’s current rules require seven days of quarantine if vaccinated, and a ten-day period for those who are not vaccinated.

“In the event that you are identified as a “close contact” of a confirmed Covid-19 case… you are required to undergo a quarantine period of at least 7 or 10 days (depending on vaccination status) from the last exposure, plus a negative antigenic or molecular test,” state the Italian health ministry’s current guidelines.

The health ministry confirms that testing negative after contact with an infected person does not exempt you from the quarantine requirement.

Italy defines quarantine as “carried out when a healthy person has been exposed to a Covid-19 case, with the aim of monitoring symptoms and providing for the early identification of cases”, as opposed to isolation, which is used “to separate people suffering from Covid-19 from healthy ones in order to prevent the spread of infection”.

As coronavirus infection rates soared above 50,000 a day in Italy over the Christmas period, forcing hundreds of thousands of people into isolation over the holidays, health experts and regional leaders called for a review of the restrictions.

The number of known daily cases reached an all-time high of 78,300 on Tuesday December 28th.

With authorities predicting that the daily case number will soon reach 100,000, with an average of five close contacts per person, this could mean some 500,000 people soon having to quarantine daily.

Dr Nino Cartabellotta, head of independent health watchdog Gimbe, said the quarantine period should be reduced for those who have had a third, or booster, jab.

“Omicron is a very contagious variant.” he said in an interview with Italy’s Radio Cusano Campus. “Each positive may have had, on average, five to 10 contacts. If we have a million positives it means five to 10 million contacts to be quarantined, and this is not possible.”

“Those who have had the third dose are less likely to get infected, and therefore the rules for this category should be revised,” he said. “Someone who is vaccinated with the third dose must see their quarantine period reduced.”

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

Luca Zaia, president of the northern Veneto region, said: “it is reasonable to start reflecting on quarantine for the vaccinated: it must be revised”. 

But, while scientific experts are looking at possible changes, it remains unclear how or when the country could review its current quarantine measures.

Italian media speculates on Wednesday that the quarantine period for vaccinated people could be cut to four or five days, while those who have had a booster jab could be exempted. However, no recommendations have yet been made by the CTS.

Health Undersecretary Pierpaolo Sileri told Sky TG24 on Monday that “a revision of the quarantine rules is necessary, but now is not the time,” adding that any changes would come in “probably in 10 to 15 days.”

Omicron “probably accounts for more than 50-60 percent of cases” of Covid-19 in Italy now, he added.

He said that Italy could soon see 100,000 cases per day, “but if they’re not all hospitalised I don’t see any big problems for schools”, which the government says will reopen as planned on January 10th.

Quarantine rules for children may also be revised before that date, Sileri said.

The gap between administering the second jab and the booster dose will be cut from five months to four from January 10th, Figliuolo also confirmed on Monday.

“Omicron is much more contagious than Delta, some say up to five times more,” Figliuolo told Italian media.

Italy is currently offering booster shots to all over-18s and the gap between administering the second jab and the booster will be cut from five months to four from January 10th, Figliuolo confirmed on Monday.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said last week that Omicron is spreading faster than the Delta variant, causing infections in people already vaccinated or recovered from the disease, Reuters reports.

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told journalists in Geneva it would be “unwise” to conclude from early evidence that Omicron is a milder variant than previous ones.

The variant is successfully evading some immune responses, she said, meaning that the booster rollouts in many countries ought to be targeted towards people with weaker immune systems.

For further details about Italy’s current Covid-19 health measures please see the Italian Health Ministry’s website (available in English).

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Reader question: What are Italy’s Covid quarantine rules for travellers?

Italy's quarantine rules have changed so many times over the past couple of years, it can be hard to keep track. Here's the latest information on when and how visitors need to self-isolate.

Reader question: What are Italy's Covid quarantine rules for travellers?

Question: “One of your recent articles says you can exit quarantine by testing negative for the coronavirus. But you can also exit quarantine by obtaining a certificate of recovery from Covid-19… true?”

Unfortunately, official proof of having recovered from Covid-19 won’t get you out of the requirement to self-isolate if you test positive for Covid while visiting Italy – though it can shorten your quarantine period.

The health ministry’s current rules state that anyone who tests positive while in Italy is required to immediately self-isolate for a minimum of seven days: that’s if the person in question is fully vaccinated and boosted, or has completed their primary vaccination cycle, or was certified as being recovered from Covid less than 120 days ago.

That period is extended to 10 days for those who aren’t fully vaccinated and boosted, or those who recovered from Covid or completed their primary vaccination cycle more than 120 days ago.

In either case, the infected person must have been symptomless for at least three days in order to exit quarantine (with the exception of symptoms relating to a lost sense of taste or smell, which can persist for some time after the infection is over).

READ ALSO: Travel in Italy and Covid rules this summer: what to expect

The patient must also test negative for the virus via either a molecular (PCR) or rapid antigen test on the final day of the quarantine in order to be allowed out.

Read more about getting tested while in Italy in a separate article here.

Quarantined people who keep testing positive for the virus can be kept in self-isolation for a maximum of 21 days, at which point they will be automatically released.

Italy does not currently require visitors from any country to test negative in order to enter its borders, as long as they are fully boosted or were recently vaccinated/ have recently recovered from Covid.

READ ALSO: How tourists and visitors can get a coronavirus test in Italy

Some countries (including the US), however, do require people travelling from Italy to test negative before their departure – which means visitors at the tail end of their journey could be hit with the unpleasant surprise of finding out they need to quarantine for another week in Italy instead of heading home as planned.

It’s because of this rule that a number of The Local’s readers told us they wouldn’t be coming on holiday to Italy this summer, and intend to postpone for another year.

If you are planning on visiting Italy from a country that requires you to test negative for Covid prior to re-entry, it’s a good idea to consider what you would do and where you would go in the unlikely event you unexpectedly test positive.

Please note that The Local cannot advise on specific cases. For more information about how the rules may apply to you, see the Italian Health Ministry’s website or consult the Italian embassy in your country.

You can keep up with the latest updates via our homepage or Italian travel news section.