Italy announces new Covid quarantine and green pass rules as cases surge

Italy on Wednesday scrapped quarantine rules for those coming into contact with someone positive for coronavirus providing they have had a booster shot, or were recently vaccinated or recovered.

People wear face masks as they walk in Milan.
Italy has again tightened some health restrictions just days after announcing the last emergency decree. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Health experts had urged the government to rethink its quarantine policies amid concerns that the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant could paralyse the country by forcing millions to stay at home.

With close to 100,000 people now testing positive daily in Italy, experts warned this could mean half a million more people required to quarantine every day unless the rules were eased.

Quarantine will no longer be required for those who had contact with a positive case if they have had a booster dose, or were vaccinated or have recovered within the last 120 days, according to a government statement released on Wednesday night.

Q&A: What are Italy’s new Covid quarantine rules?

They will be required to wear a more protective FFP2 mask for 10 days and, if they have symptoms, take a test within five days of contact with the positive person.

Previous rules required all contacts to quarantine (for seven days if vaccinated and ten if not) and then get a negative test result at the end of this period.

It was not clear from the initial announcement when the quarantine rule change would come into effect. The government is working on a new decree on Thursday, news agency Ansa reports.

On Wednesday night, the government also added to the growing list of venues where the ‘super’ or reinforced green pass will be required from January 10th, now including outdoor restaurants, hotels, and ski lifts as well as all forms of public transport.

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

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

The government stopped short of introducing the requirement at all workplaces – which would effectively amount to a long-discussed vaccination mandate for a large proportion of the population.

“I think it is reasonable to apply different rules to those citizens who have followed the government’s indications, taking two doses and then the booster,” said health undersecretary Andrea Costa.

The new measures were confirmed as the daily number of coronavirus cases soared to a record 98,030 on Wednesday, with the number of hospitalised patients also rising.

The rule changes come in addition to a raft of tighter rules announced on Thursday, December 23rd, including a ban on outdoor events over the festive period and the closure of nightclubs until January 31st.

Italy’s government last week also introduced new random testing requirements for international arrivals, in addition to the existing rules on testing and vaccination.

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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Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

The health ministry is reviewing its quarantine requirements as the country's Covid-19 health situation improved again this week, according to Italian media reports.

Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

Italy has taken a more cautious approach to Covid in recent months than many of its European neighbours, keeping strict isolation rules in place for anyone who tests positive for the virus.

But this could be set to change in the coming days, according to media reports, as one of Italy’s deputy health ministers said the government is about to cut the isolation period for asymptomatic cases.

“Certainly in the next few days there will be a reduction in isolation for those who are positive but have no symptoms,” Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa said in a TV interview on the political talk show Agorà on Tuesday.

“We have to manage to live with the virus,” he said.

Italy’s La Stampa newspaper reported that the compulsory isolation period could be reduced to 48 hours for those who test positive but remain asymptomatic – provided they subsequently test negative after the day two mark.

Under Italy’s current rules, vaccinated people who test positive must stay in isolation for at least seven days, and unvaccinated people for ten days – regardless of whether or not they have any symptoms.

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

At the end of the isolation period, the patient has to take another test to exit quarantine. Those who test negative are free to leave; those who remain positive must stay in isolation until they get a negative test result, up to a maximum of 21 days in total (at which point it doesn’t matter what the test result says).

Health ministry sources indicated the new rules would cut the maximum quarantine period to 15 or even 10 days for people who continue to test positive after the initial isolation period is up, La Stampa said.

The government is believed to be reviewing the rules as the latest official data showed Covid infection and hospitalisation rates were slowing again this week, as the current wave of contagions appeared to have peaked in mid-July.

However, the national Rt number (which shows the rate of transmission) remained above the epidemic threshold, and the number of fatalities continued to rise.

The proposed changes still aren’t lenient enough for some parties. Regional authorities have been pushing for an end to quarantine altogether, even for people who are actively positive – an idea Costa appears sympathetic to.

“The next step I think is to consider the idea of even eliminating the quarantine, perhaps by wearing a mask and therefore being able to go to work,” he told reporters.

“We must review the criteria for isolation, to avoid blocking the country again”.

At least one health expert, however, was unenthusiastic about the proposal.

Dr Nino Cartabellotta, head of Italy’s evidence-based medicine group Gimbe, tweeted on Tuesday: “There are currently no epidemiological or public health reasons to abolish the isolation of Covid-19 positives”

Massimo Andreoni, professor of Infectious Diseases at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the Tor Vergata University of Rome, was more ambivalent about the prospect.

The isolation requirement for asymptomatic cases should be “revised somewhat in the light of the epidemiological data”, he told reporters, but urged “a minimum of precaution, because the less the virus circulates and the fewer severe cases there are, the fewer new variants arise”.

When the question was last raised at the end of June, Health Minister Roberto Speranza was firmly against the idea of lifting quarantine requirements for people who were Covid positive.

“At the moment such a thing is not in question,” he told newspaper La Repubblica at the time. “Anyone who is infected must stay at home.”