Four more Italian regions in Covid ‘orange’ risk zone from Monday

Four more Italian regions will be classed as medium-high risk Covid 'orange' zones from Monday as cases and hospitalisations continue to rise.

A woman rides a bike in downtown Turin, Piedmont: one of the Italian regions becoming an 'orange' zone on Monday.
A woman rides a bike in downtown Turin, Piedmont: one of the Italian regions becoming an 'orange' zone on Monday. Photo: MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

Abruzzo, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Piedmont and Sicily are all set to lose their low-to-moderate ‘yellow’ zone risk status under Italy’s four-tiered system of Covid restrictions from Monday, January 24th, following an ordinance signed by Health Minister Roberto Speranza on Friday afternoon, according to Italian media reports.

Meanwhile Puglia and Sardinia, two of the five Italian regions that had until now had remained in the least-restricted ‘white’ zone, will be under ‘yellow’ zone restrictions from Monday.

Under the current system, ‘white’ zones are under the most relaxed rules, and ‘yellow’, ‘orange’ and ‘red’ zones are under increasingly strict measures.

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

Abruzzo, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Piedmont and Sicily will join Northern of Val d’Aosta in the ‘orange’ zone. Only three regions – Umbria, Basilicata and Molise – remain in the least restricted ‘white’ zone from Monday, with the remainder of the country in the ‘yellow’ zone.

Under rules put in place by Italy’s government last July, a region’s risk status should be based on whether it simultaneously exceeds three thresholds relating to Covid incident rates, ICU Covid patient occupancy rates and general hospital ward Covid patient occupancy rates – with increasingly higher thresholds in place for each risk category.

These figures are released daily by Agenas, Italy’s National Agency for Health Services, and provide a useful indication of where each region is likely to be headed.

As of Thursday (the most current dataset available), Abruzzo, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Piedmont and Sicily had all approached or exceeded the ‘orange’ zone parameters of 150 Covid cases per 100,000 inhabitants, 20 percent ICU and 30 percent general ward Covid patient occupancy, the figures show. 

Abruzzo now has 22 percent ICU and 32 percent general hospital ward Covid patient occupancy, while Friuli Venezia Giulia’s figures for the same parameters stand at 23 percent and 34 percent, Piedmont’s at 23 percent and 30 percent, and Sicily’s at 20 percent and 37 percent. All of Italy’s region’s currently exceed the case limit threshold.

Italy's tiered system of localised Covid restrictions was first introduced in November 2020, and was initially used to place tighter limitations on movement in areas where the risk of contagion and pressure on hospitals was deemed dangerously high.

Recently, however, the system’s usefulness has been 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.

It is now necessary to present a 'super green pass' health certificate, available only to those who are vaccinated against or recently recovered from Covid, to access most services and venues in Italy, including public transport, sports facilities and restaurants.

From the start of next month, a 'basic green pass', which can also be obtained via a negative Covid test result, will additionally be required to enter most shops and to access post offices, banks, and public offices (the basic green pass requirement has been in place specifically for hairdressers and beauty salons since January 20th).

READ ALSO: Italy confirms most shops require Covid green pass from February 1st

As these rules apply nationwide, the unvaccinated (or unrecovered from Covid) face strict constraints even in the 'white' zone, while those with a vaccine pass will experience little change to their daily lives even with a transition to 'orange' zone rules.

Only in the 'red' zone, which in effect imposes a full lockdown, does life substantially change for 'super green pass' holders - leading some commentators to describe the tiered colour system as obsolete in all but the most extreme circumstances.

Early this week, Speranza said he intended to open a discussion with regional authorities "to address issues" with the system, while Health Undersecretary Pierpaolo Sileri has reportedly said the rules “will be modified and relaxed very soon”.

READ ALSO: Italy to ‘reconsider’ tiered system of Covid risk zones

Speaking on Friday, President of the Lombardy Region Attilio Fontana suggested that a conference between regional heads and the government would be held next week instead, adding that the zone system “is a little out of date”.

“It was useful at a certain stage and now I think it needs to be modified,” he said. “The virus and its way of expanding are different, and the situation of citizens, who are largely vaccinated, is different. We must try to adapt to the new situation.”

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Masks to remain mandatory on Italian flights after May 16th

It will still be obligatory for passengers to wear masks on flights to Italy until mid-June, despite the end of the EU-wide requirement on Monday, May 16th, the Italian government has confirmed.

Masks to remain mandatory on Italian flights after May 16th

The Italian government reiterated on Friday that its current mask-wearing rules remain in place until June 15th, reports newspaper Corriere della Sera.

This means the mask mandate will still apply to all air passengers travelling to or from Italy, despite the end of an EU-wide requirement to wear masks on flights and at airports across the bloc from Monday.

READ ALSO: Reader question: What type of mask will I need for travel to Italy?

National regulations take precedence, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) confirmed when announcing the end of the EU rules.

“Wearing face masks at airports and inflight should be aligned with national measures on wearing masks in public transport and transport hubs,” they said in a joint statement published on May 11th.

READ ALSO: Why are so many Italians still wearing face masks in shops?

“If either the departure or destination States require the wearing of face masks on public transport, aircraft operators should require passengers and crew to comply with those requirements inflight, beyond 16 May 2022.

“Further, as of 16 May 2022, aircraft operators, during their pre-flight communications as well as during the flight, should continue to encourage their passengers and crew members to wear face masks during the flight as well as in the airport, even when wearing a face mask is not required”.

The Spanish government also said on Thursday that air passengers would have to continue wearing face masks on planes.

Italy’s current rules specify that higher-grade FFP2 masks should be worn on all forms of public transport, including buses, trams, regional and high-speed trains, ferries, and planes.

Though rules were eased in some settings from May 1st, masks also remain a requirement until June 15th at Italy’s cinemas and theatres, hospitals and care homes, indoor sporting event and concert venues, schools and universities.