Italy’s regional Covid-19 ‘zones’ remain unchanged from Monday

There will be no change to the Covid risk classifications for Italian regions this week, the health minister confirmed, as the four-tiered system looks increasingly likely to be scrapped.

People have a drink on a bar terrace at the Navigli in downtown Milan.
Italy has been under a system of regional Covid restrictios since November 2020. Photo: Miguel MEDINA / AFP

All of Italy’s 21 regions and autonomous provinces will retain their current ‘zone’ status for another week under Italy’s system of Covid risk classification, Health Minister Roberto Speranza confirmed.

“I’m not signing an ordinance today: no region will change colour,” Speranza told reporters in parliament on Friday evening during a vote in Italy’s presidential election.

The regions are currently classified as follows:

  • White zone: Basilicata, Molise and Umbria;
  • Yellow zone : Calabria, Campania, Emilia Romagna, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardy, Marche, Puglia, Sardinia, Tuscany, Veneto, Autonomous Provinces of Bolzano and Trento;
  • Orange zone : Abruzzo, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Piedmont, Sicily and Valle d’Aosta;
  • Red zone: No regions.

The decision as to which zone each region is in is made based on analysis of weekly data relating to infection rates, and the percentages of both intensive care beds and regular hospital beds occupied by Covid patients.

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.

READ ALSO: How do Italy’s Covid-19 rules change from February 1st?

Previously, the system meant that areas in the ‘white’ zone were under the most relaxed rules, and ‘yellow’, ‘orange’ and ‘red’ zones were under increasingly strict measures aimed at containing the spread of the virus.

But the system’s usefulness is increasingly being called into question amid Italy's increasing reliance on the use of vaccine passes instead, and recent 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.

People walk at twilight along the Arno river near the Ponte Vecchio in downtown Florence, Tuscany.
People walk at twilight along the Arno river near the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Tuscany. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

It is now necessary to present a 'super green pass' health certificate, available only to those who are vaccinated or recovered, to access most services and venues throughout Italy, including public transport, hotels, tourist and cultural sites and restaurants.

From February 1st, a 'basic green pass', which can also be obtained via a negative Covid test result, will be required to enter all 'non-essential' shops and to access post offices, banks, and public offices, as well as hairdressers and beauty salons.

As these rules apply nationwide, the unvaccinated (or unrecovered) 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 critics to dismiss the tiered colour system as obsolete in all but the most extreme circumstances.

After weeks of speculation that the four-tiered system is about to be scrapped, Italy's government confirmed last week that it would hold talks with regional authorities with a view to revising the system.

On Friday, newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that deputy Health Secretary Andrea Costa had said all aspects of the system apart from the 'red' zone would be scrapped.

The government has not yet confirmed the changes, however. An official announcement is expected in the coming days.

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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.”