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?

** Please note that this article is no longer being updated. Find the latest news on Italy’s Covid-19 health measures here. **

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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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.