Italy to ‘reconsider’ tiered system of Covid risk zones

The Italian government is holding talks on Monday over the future of the four-tiered system of health measures in place since last November and may also change the way Covid cases are counted, local media reports.

People walk in central Milan wearing FFP2 face masks.
Italy's coloured zone system of Covid rules could soon be scrapped as the country relies increasingly on vaccination. Photo: Miguel Medina

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza confirmed on Monday that “in the next few hours we’ll open a discussion” with regional authorities “to address issues” with the tiered system, according to national broadcaster Rai.

The president of Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS), Franco Locatelli, said: “The coloured system for the regions was developed by the health ministry in different times,” adding that a review was “logical”.

While no details were given by officials as to the changes being proposed on Monday morning, Rai writes that government may “consign the coloured system to the attic”, ie: scrap it altogether.

MAP: Which Covid risk zone is each Italian region in from Monday?

Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera cites Health Undersecretary Pierpaolo Sileri as saying the rules “will be modified and relaxed very soon”, while news agency Ansa reports that the government is also likely to change the way Covid cases are counted, without giving further detail.

Introduced under former prime minister Giuseppe Conte in early November 2020, the zone system divides Italy’s 21 regions and autonomous provinces by colour: from white (lowest risk), to yellow, orange, and red (highest risk).

The system, which has been revised multiple times since it was first brought in, was initially used to place tighter restrictions on movement in areas where the risk of contagion and pressure on hospitals was deemed dangerously high.

But the system’s usefulness is increasingly being called into question amid increasing reliance on the use of vaccine passes in Italy and rule changes which mean restrictions in white and yellow zones are now the same, while rules only change in an orange zone for people who are unvaccinated.

With the government also expected to agree this week on new rules restricting access to more venues and services to the unvaccinated regardless of zone from February, the orange zone classification could also soon become obsolete.

Starting next month, either the ‘super’ green pass – which is effectively a vaccine pass – or the ‘basic’ version, which can also be accessed using a negative test result, will be a requirement everywhere in Italy except for supermarkets, grocery stores, hospitals and pharmacies, Rai reports.

The government is yet to decide whether it will require passes for entry to shops such as newsagents and tobacconists, with a decision expected by the middle of this week.

For the moment, the coloured tier system remains in place with most of the country designated a ‘yellow’ zone as of Monday.

On Friday, the health minister signed an ordinance increasing the risk level in two regions from Monday, January 17th.

Valle d’Aosta became Italy’s only ‘orange’ zone and Calabria turned ‘yellow’, as the health situation was deemed to be worsening according to the latest weekly health data report published by the health ministry and ISS.

Italy’s health ministry examines the latest figures each week and decides which restrictions should be applied to a region or autonomous province from the following Monday.

EXPLAINED: What are the rules in Italy’s Covid ‘orange’ zones?

“The epidemic is at a delicate stage and a persistent increase in the number of cases and hospitalisations has been observed for several weeks now,” the report stated.

Scientific experts predict that the current wave of contagions sweeping Italy is likely to hit its ‘peak’ in Italy by the end of this week – but have warned that daily case numbers may rise further before this happens.

For more information about Italy’s current Covid-19 health measures please see the Italian health ministry’s website (available in English).

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‘Not offensive’: Italian minister defends Covid testing rule for China arrivals

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani defended the policy of testing all arrivals from China for Covid-19 after Beijing said the policy "lacks scientific basis".

'Not offensive': Italian minister defends Covid testing rule for China arrivals

“It seems perfectly normal to me,” Tajani told Italian state broadcaster Rai on Tuesday. “Having a test is a way to protect people’s health. There is nothing offensive about it.”

“Lots of Chinese and Italians coming from China do it (anyway),” he claimed.

READ ALSO: Is the EU likely to reinstate Covid travel restrictions?

Italy was the first European country to make testing on arrival a requirement for passengers arriving on flights from China last week, after a surge in the infection rate there.

Italian Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said on Wednesday that the screening requirement was “essential to ensure the surveillance and identification of any variants of the virus in order to protect the Italian population”.

READ ALSO: Italy pushes for EU-wide China Covid measures as tests show no new variants

France and Spain have since introduced similar rules (as well as non-EU countries including the UK and USA) and there is now a meeting scheduled for Wednesday of the EU Integrated Policy Response Capability to discuss coordinating measures.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said the screening policy would be “ineffective” if not done on a European level, as only people arriving on direct flights from China were being tested in Italy, not those with stopovers.

But the Chinese government on Tuesday hit out at countries introducing a policy of mandatory testing for people arriving from China.

“Some countries have taken entry restrictions targeting only Chinese travellers,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning was quoted as saying at a briefing by AFP.

“This lacks scientific basis and some practices are unacceptable”.

She said Beijing may “take countermeasures based on the principle of reciprocity”.