Four more Italian regions become ‘yellow’ zones on Monday amid Covid surge

A total of 11 Italian regions or autonomous provinces are now moderate-risk 'yellow' zones as Covid cases and hospitalisations continue to rise.

People wear face masks as they walk in central Rome.
Italian regions are being placed in a higher risk category as as the Omicron-fuelled surge in infections continues. Photo: Filiippo Monteforte/AFP

The regions of Lombardy (around Milan), Lazio (around Rome) Piedmont, and Sicily will return to being moderate-risk ‘yellow’ zones on Monday, the Italian health ministry announced on Friday amid another record surge in Omicron cases.

They join Liguria, Marche, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Calabria, Trento and Bolzano, bringing the total number of yellow Italian regions and autonomous provinces to 11 (out of 21).

The rest of Italy remains in the lowest-risk ‘white’ zone, with the most relaxed rules, which become progressively more restrictive under the four-tiered system of yellow, orange (higher risk) and red (highest risk) zones.

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

Areas are classified ‘yellow’ if they hit the threshold of a weekly Covid incidence rate of 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, plus 10 percent of intensive care occupied by Covid patients and 15 per cent in general hospitalisations.

Previously, the change in classification meant further restrictions would automatically be imposed on people in the affected region.

However recent changes to nationwide rules and a strengthening of the ‘green pass’ health certificate system means that effectively no rules appear to change if a region is moved from the white zone to yellow.

Masks must already be worn in all outdoor as well as indoor public places across the country under rules brought in from December 25th, and a previous limit on table sizes at restaurants no longer applies.

But the change does mean these regions are closer to being moved into the higher-risk ‘orange’ zone, which triggers additional restrictions – mainly on those who are not vaccinated – under Italy’s ‘super green pass’ or vaccine passport scheme.

READ ALSO: What are Italy’s new rules for Covid ‘yellow’ zones?

No regions are currently classified as orange. The north-western coastal region of Liguria is thought to be closest to reaching the threshold as its intensive care occupancy rate at 22 percent, exceeding the 20 percent threshold, and general hospitalisations just two points from the 30 percent limit.

The Italian health ministry announced the four additional ‘yellow’ zones on Friday, December 31st, as the country saw another new daily record of 144,243 confirmed coronavirus infections within the previous 24 hours.

Italy has recently been announcing new record numbers of cases and steep increases almost every day, with 126,888 on Thursday.

Health authorities also reported a sharp jump in the test positivity rate on Friday, from 22 percent from 13 on Thursday.

The test positivity rate remained at around 21 percent over the New Year weekend, despite the lower number of tests carried out on Saturday and Sunday, meaning lower daily case numbers as usual on weekends.

The rise in the number of people hospitalised is steadier than in previous waves of coronavirus contagion.

However, health services are reportedly under increasing strain with some regions now seeing more than 20 percent of intensive care beds occupied by Covid patients.

The Italian government is reportedly set to meet again on Wednesday to discuss further changes to the country’s health restrictions, after already announcing two new decrees in as many weeks.

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

The government on Wednesday announced more stringent restrictions on the unvaccinated, effectively barring them from hotels, gyms, restaurants and even public transport under tighter rules coming in from January 10th.

Italy’s ‘reinforced’ or ‘super’ green pass – which shows proof of vaccination status or recovery from Covid-19 – is already required to access many places previously accessible to the unvaccinated via a negative Covid test, but restrictions are expected to be tightened further.

The Italian government is this week reportedly considering implementing a long-discussed vaccine mandate for all employees, with unions and some parties within the coalition government pushing for the obligation to instead apply to all over-18s.

Italian media also speculates that the government may reconsider its decision not to postpone the return to school, which begins in some regions on January 7th – or will at least bring in new health measures for classes ahead of that date.

“Even if there is no postponement, some changes proposed by the regional authorities are being considered, such as ten days of DAD [distance learning] for classes which report two or more infections – only for unvaccinated children,” writes news agency Ansa.

“This hypothesis has raised some political discontent, in particular from the League and the Five Star Movement, but the government makes it clear that it will do everything it can to prevent the closure of schools.”

See the latest news and updates from The Local on Italy’s current Covid-19 health measures and travel restrictions.

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.”