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.
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.
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.