Italy debates further Covid rule changes as daily cases near 100,000

Italy announced a new record high 98,020 Covid cases in the last 24 hours on Wednesday as the government considers further tightening health restrictions.

People wear face masks as they walk in central Rome.
Italy is expected to announce new restrictions just days after a new Covid-19 decree came into force. Photo: Vincenzo PINTO/AFP

The daily positive figure is a sharp increase on Tuesday’s 78,313 cases, the previous record high since the start of the pandemic.

A total of 1,029,429 tests were carried out on Wednesday, compared to 1,034,677 on Tuesday, the data from Italy’s health ministry showed. The test positivity rate rose from 7.5 percent to 9.5 percent.

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

There were 136 more Covid deaths reported on Wednesday, compared to 202 on Tuesday.

Intensive care cases increased by 40 to a total of 1,185 nationwide, and hospital admissions were up 489 to 10,578.

The figures came as the Italian government called a meeting on Wednesday evening to discuss further changes to the country’s health measures – just days after a new Covid-19 decree came into force.

The Italian government’s panel of scientific experts, the comitato tecnico scientifico or technical scientific committee (CTS). is expected to decide on Wednesday whether a cut to the quarantine period should be allowed for triple-vaccinated people who come into contact with a positive case.

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

The change is expected to come amid concerns about the economic impact of millions of people having to quarantine in Italy at the same time.

Senior health ministry figures earlier this week predicted Italy would soon exceed 100,000 daily cases – meaning up to half a million more people could be required to quarantine every day.

Hundreds of trains are being cancelled daily, operator Trenord said on Wednesday, due to a high number of staff absences.

The Italian government is set to make a decision on Wednesday night following the scientific panel’s recommendations.

It will also discuss whether to extend a ‘super’ or reinforced green pass obligation to all workplaces, according to reports from news agency Ansa on Wednesday citing government sources.

A move to expand the country’s current vaccine mandate would face strong opposition from within the coalition government, however, and looks unlikely to be approved at Wednesday’s meeting according to La Repubblica.

Italy’s reinforced green pass. introduced in early December, can only be obtained via vaccination or recovery, and not with a negative test result.

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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Italy lifts mask mandate for private sector workers

Masks will no longer be required in the workplace but Italian companies will have the right to impose restrictions for employees deemed "at risk".

Italy lifts mask mandate for private sector workers

Representatives from the Italian Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Health and all major national unions collectively signed off on Thursday a new “shared protocol” (protocollo condiviso) for the implementation of anti-Covid measures in private workplaces. 

Although the full text of the bill will only be made available to the public sometime next week, portions of the document have already been released to the media, thus disclosing the government’s next steps in the fight against the virus.

The most relevant update concerns face masks, which will no longer be mandatory in private workplaces. 

However, the text specifies, FFP2 face masks remain “an important protective item aimed at safeguarding workers’ health”. As such, employers will have the right to autonomously impose the use of face coverings on categories of workers considered “at risk”.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Notably, face coverings may remain mandatory for those working in “indoor settings shared by multiple employees” or even in “outdoor settings where social distancing may not be practicable”. Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions (soggetti fragili) may also be subject to such rules, which, it is worth reminding, are left to the employer’s discretion. 

Alongside mask-related restrictions, employers will also have the right to have their staff undergo temperature checks prior to entering the workplace. In such cases, anyone with a body temperature higher than 37.5C will be denied access to the workplace and will be asked to temporarily self-isolate pending further indications from their own doctor.

In line with previous measures, companies will be required to continue supplying sanitising products free of charge and regulate access to common areas (canteens, smoking areas, etc.) so as to avoid gatherings.

Additionally, employers will be advised to keep incentivising smart working (lavoro agile), as it has proved to be “a valuable tool to curb infection, especially for at-risk individuals”.

Provided that the country’s infection curve registers no significant changes, the updated protocol will remain in place until October 31st, when it will yet again be reviewed by the relevant governmental and social parties. 

With the latest round of measures, Italy has now scrapped all Covid-related health measures, except the requirement to wear face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings, and self-isolation provisions for those testing positive. 

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

Italy’s infection curve has been rising significantly since the beginning of June. From June 1st to June 14th, Covid’s R (spreading rate) rate rose back over 1 for the first time since April 8th. Also, from June 17th to June 23rd, the virus’s incidence rate was 504 cases every 100,000 residents, up by 62 per cent on the previous week.

According to Claudio Mastroianni, Professor of Infectious Diseases at Sapienza University of Rome, “with 25 per cent of daily Covid swabs coming back positive and a R rate over 1, the infection curve will likely rise at least until mid-July”.

However, albeit acknowledging the rising number of positive cases, Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa has so far categorically excluded the possibility of re-introducing lapsed Covid measures, saying that it’ll be a “restriction-free summer”.