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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Italy allows suspended anti-vax doctors to return to work

Italian heathcare staff suspended over their refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19 can now return to work, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni confirmed on Monday.

Italy allows suspended anti-vax doctors to return to work

Italy become the first country in Europe to make it obligatory for healthcare workers to be vaccinated, ruling in 2021 that they must have the jab or be transferred to other roles or suspended without pay.

That obligation had been set to expire in December, but was brought forward to Tuesday due to “a shortage of medical and health personnel”, Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said.

READ ALSO: Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

Italy was the first European country to be hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, and has since registered nearly 180,000 deaths.

Schillaci first announced the plan to scrap the rule on Friday in a statement saying data showed the virus’ impact on hospitals  “is now limited”.

Those who refuse vaccination will be “reintegrated” into the workforce before the rule expires at the end of this year, as part of what the minister called a “gradual return to normality”.

Meloni said the move, which has been criticised by the centre-left as a win for anti-vax campaigners, would mean some 4,000 healthcare workers can return to work.

This includes some 1,579 doctors and dentists refusing vaccination, according to records at the end of October, representing 0.3 percent of all those registered with Italy’s National Federation of the Orders of Physicians, Surgeons and Dentists (Fnomceo) 

Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy party railed against the way Mario Draghi’s government handled the pandemic, when it was the main opposition party, and she promised to use her first cabinet meetings to mark a clear break in policies with her predecessor.