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** Please note that this article is no longer being updated.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 lifts mask mandate for private sector workers

Masks will no longer be required in the workplace but Italian companies will have the right to impose restrictions for employees deemed "at risk".

Italy lifts mask mandate for private sector workers

Representatives from the Italian Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Health and all major national unions collectively signed off on Thursday a new “shared protocol” (protocollo condiviso) for the implementation of anti-Covid measures in private workplaces. 

Although the full text of the bill will only be made available to the public sometime next week, portions of the document have already been released to the media, thus disclosing the government’s next steps in the fight against the virus.

The most relevant update concerns face masks, which will no longer be mandatory in private workplaces. 

However, the text specifies, FFP2 face masks remain “an important protective item aimed at safeguarding workers’ health”. As such, employers will have the right to autonomously impose the use of face coverings on categories of workers considered “at risk”.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Notably, face coverings may remain mandatory for those working in “indoor settings shared by multiple employees” or even in “outdoor settings where social distancing may not be practicable”. Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions (soggetti fragili) may also be subject to such rules, which, it is worth reminding, are left to the employer’s discretion. 

Alongside mask-related restrictions, employers will also have the right to have their staff undergo temperature checks prior to entering the workplace. In such cases, anyone with a body temperature higher than 37.5C will be denied access to the workplace and will be asked to temporarily self-isolate pending further indications from their own doctor.

In line with previous measures, companies will be required to continue supplying sanitising products free of charge and regulate access to common areas (canteens, smoking areas, etc.) so as to avoid gatherings.

Additionally, employers will be advised to keep incentivising smart working (lavoro agile), as it has proved to be “a valuable tool to curb infection, especially for at-risk individuals”.

Provided that the country’s infection curve registers no significant changes, the updated protocol will remain in place until October 31st, when it will yet again be reviewed by the relevant governmental and social parties. 

With the latest round of measures, Italy has now scrapped all Covid-related health measures, except the requirement to wear face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings, and self-isolation provisions for those testing positive. 

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

Italy’s infection curve has been rising significantly since the beginning of June. From June 1st to June 14th, Covid’s R (spreading rate) rate rose back over 1 for the first time since April 8th. Also, from June 17th to June 23rd, the virus’s incidence rate was 504 cases every 100,000 residents, up by 62 per cent on the previous week.

According to Claudio Mastroianni, Professor of Infectious Diseases at Sapienza University of Rome, “with 25 per cent of daily Covid swabs coming back positive and a R rate over 1, the infection curve will likely rise at least until mid-July”.

However, albeit acknowledging the rising number of positive cases, Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa has so far categorically excluded the possibility of re-introducing lapsed Covid measures, saying that it’ll be a “restriction-free summer”.