EXPLAINED: When will Italy lift its Covid-19 mask mandate?

After Italian media reports on Wednesday suggested the government was planning to scrap all mask-wearing rules in April, how likely is this really?

EXPLAINED: When will Italy lift its Covid-19 mask mandate?

The Italian health ministry confirmed on Tuesday that it will drop the requirement to wear masks in outdoor public places this week. But does that mean all mask-wearing rules are about to be dropped, including indoors?

Reports from several prominent Italian media outlets on Wednesday said the requirement to wear masks indoors would also be scrapped from April 1st. Some headlines, including from Italian newspaper Il Messaggero and news agency Ansa, also claimed that the Italian ‘green pass’ health certificate would no longer be needed from that date.

But it’s unclear what these reports were based on, as the text of the health ministry ordinance published on Wednesday morning (read it here, in Italian) does not include references to scrapping either measure.

READ ALSO: Italy to lift Covid outdoor mask requirement from Friday

Ansa issued a correction later on Wednesday, clarifying that “there is no automatic mechanism defining the end of the obligation to wear masks indoors as of April 1st, or after the eventual end of the state of emergency. Everything will depend on the progress of the epidemiological situation.”

Ansa cited “qualified government sources” as saying the current hypothesis foresees “the use of protective devices even after March 31st”.

While the updated ordinance does expire on March 31st, this does not necessarily mean that the current set of rules on wearing masks in Italy will end on April 1st.

Many of Italy’s current health restrictions have a stated expiry date of March 31st, because this is also the current deadline for the country’s state of emergency – which is what makes it possible for the government to bring in emergency measures by decree (instead of via the usual lengthy parliamentary process needed when passing laws.).

So, while all such measures must have an expiry date no later than the end of the state of emergency, this doesn’t necessarily mean this is the date on which they will be scrapped.

As anyone who has followed reports on Italy’s changing health measures during the pandemic will know, the government can extend both the state of emergency and the duration of any health measures in place at any time.

It can also choose to scrap individual measures before their stated end date – meaning that this tells us very little about how long each rule will really be in place.

READ ALSO: How Italy has updated its Covid health pass rules for visitors

Though ministers say they will give a “timeline” for easing some measures soon, the government has not set any date by which either the indoor mask rule or the green pass obligation will be dropped.

Health experts and epidemiologists have suggested that masks will continue to be necessary indoors for a while yet.

“In the coming months we can hardly do without masks indoors,” said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe evidence-based medicine foundation, in an interview with Radio Cusano Campus on Tuesday.

“You need them during a pandemic,” he said. “You have to get used to there being moments in which we have to be careful and others in which we feel more free.”

Walter Ricciardi, an advisor to the health minister, said earlier this week that health passes should remain in place over summer “at least”.

There is speculation that the government plans to end the state of emergency on March 31st – though it is not clear how it would keep health restrictions in place without it.

Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa said last week that “the government’s objective is that [the state of emergency] not be extended after March 31st, and I trust that the conditions are in place for it not to be extended.”

Italy’s current state of emergency was initially declared on January 31st, 2020, and it has been extended repeatedly since.

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Reader question: What are Italy’s Covid quarantine rules for travellers?

Italy's quarantine rules have changed so many times over the past couple of years, it can be hard to keep track. Here's the latest information on when and how visitors need to self-isolate.

Reader question: What are Italy's Covid quarantine rules for travellers?

Question: “One of your recent articles says you can exit quarantine by testing negative for the coronavirus. But you can also exit quarantine by obtaining a certificate of recovery from Covid-19… true?”

Unfortunately, official proof of having recovered from Covid-19 won’t get you out of the requirement to self-isolate if you test positive for Covid while visiting Italy – though it can shorten your quarantine period.

The health ministry’s current rules state that anyone who tests positive while in Italy is required to immediately self-isolate for a minimum of seven days: that’s if the person in question is fully vaccinated and boosted, or has completed their primary vaccination cycle, or was certified as being recovered from Covid less than 120 days ago.

That period is extended to 10 days for those who aren’t fully vaccinated and boosted, or those who recovered from Covid or completed their primary vaccination cycle more than 120 days ago.

In either case, the infected person must have been symptomless for at least three days in order to exit quarantine (with the exception of symptoms relating to a lost sense of taste or smell, which can persist for some time after the infection is over).

READ ALSO: Travel in Italy and Covid rules this summer: what to expect

The patient must also test negative for the virus via either a molecular (PCR) or rapid antigen test on the final day of the quarantine in order to be allowed out.

Read more about getting tested while in Italy in a separate article here.

Quarantined people who keep testing positive for the virus can be kept in self-isolation for a maximum of 21 days, at which point they will be automatically released.

Italy does not currently require visitors from any country to test negative in order to enter its borders, as long as they are fully boosted or were recently vaccinated/ have recently recovered from Covid.

READ ALSO: How tourists and visitors can get a coronavirus test in Italy

Some countries (including the US), however, do require people travelling from Italy to test negative before their departure – which means visitors at the tail end of their journey could be hit with the unpleasant surprise of finding out they need to quarantine for another week in Italy instead of heading home as planned.

It’s because of this rule that a number of The Local’s readers told us they wouldn’t be coming on holiday to Italy this summer, and intend to postpone for another year.

If you are planning on visiting Italy from a country that requires you to test negative for Covid prior to re-entry, it’s a good idea to consider what you would do and where you would go in the unlikely event you unexpectedly test positive.

Please note that The Local cannot advise on specific cases. For more information about how the rules may apply to you, see the Italian Health Ministry’s website or consult the Italian embassy in your country.

You can keep up with the latest updates via our homepage or Italian travel news section.