Schools: Italy plans new Covid quarantine and distance learning rules

As millions of children are due to return to class over the coming days, the Italian government is planning changes to school quarantine rules in its latest set of anti-Covid measures.

Children wait to enter a school in Italy in accordance with anti-Covid rules.
Distance learning rules in schools across Italy could change from January. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

The Italian government is to meet on Wednesday to discuss further Covid regulations, including how to curb a rise in infections among schoolchildren but while also limiting distance learning.

One of the options is expected to detail a new quarantine requirement for students who test positive for Covid, and when distance learning – or ‘DAD‘ (‘didattica a distanza’) – will be activated.

So far, schools are due to reopen as planned between January 7th and 10th and the Christmas holidays won’t be extended, as had been discussed previously – although some municipalities or regions have individually decided to postpone their back-to-school date after the festive break.

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

One idea being considered makes a distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated children. In the case of four positive cases detected in a class, there will be a week’s DAD and quarantine for all the pupils in the class, in addition to a testing requirement for the unvaccinated, if the vaccinated children have no symptoms.

As things stand in the draft decree, these are the potential changes for primary school and middle school students up to the sixth grade, reported news agency Ansa.

Under this threshold, everyone is expected to undergo self-monitoring and to wear FFP2 masks. Students are to be asked to only stay in family environments and not mix with other households, although these measures are still under review.

The current school rules dictate that the whole class will automatically go into quarantine only if there are three positives cases detected.

Authorities reduced this to one infection in November, but then reverted to the original plans just one day later.

Opinions are still divided on whether this will work or if a last-minute delay to restarting school would be more effective.

Vincenzo De Luca, the governor of Campania, has called for the return to the classroom to be postponed by 20-30 days to “cool down the contagion peak” and to “develop the largest possible vaccination campaign for the student population,” reports Sky Tg24 news.

For education minister Patrizio Bianchi, however, it is “fundamental to protect teaching in the classroom”, as has always been his line throughout the use of distance learning in the pandemic.

Decisions on rule changes in school will take into account the latest infection figures among school-age children.

The Italian Society of Paediatrics (SIP) stated that in the last week, about one infection in four are among children under 20. In a month, the number of people admitted to hospital under 19 increased by 791 – from 8,632 to 9,423.

“In recent weeks, in the five-11 age group, there have been 250 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, which is a significant increase in incidence compared to other age groups,” said SIP President Annamaria Staiano.

Vaccination among the five-11 year-olds is still low, but they only began in mid-December for this category. Since Italy started immunising Italy’s 3.5 million children in this age group, 10 percent have now had one dose according to the latest figures, while some 403 children nationwide have fully completed the cycle.

EXPLAINED: How Italy will vaccinate five to 11 year-olds against Covid

This is compared to 70 percent vaccination coverage among 12-19 year-olds.

But vaccination rates alone have been criticised as a reason for triggering distance learning, failing to take into account the psychological impact on children.

“During this pandemic period, we have observed a more than significant increase in cases of psychiatric disorders in children: from anxiety disorders and depression to acts of self-harm and cases of attempted suicide. This is a huge social problem that must be prevented,” stated Staiano.

But De Luca claimed, “it is necessary to look at reality without falling into depression, to use reason to fight. Now we know that we don’t have a vaccine that is enough, we need the second and third dose. So patience is needed to govern this situation.”

These changes are set to be approved or rejected along with an extension to the ‘super green pass’ requirement for all workplaces. This will mark the third decree after the government already brought in two previous ones in as many weeks.

Member comments

  1. Vincenzo De Luca, the governor of Campania, is a dangerous lunatic and needs replacing immediately for abusing his platform to spout such nonsense.

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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.”