‘This is not over’: What do experts think of Italy’s Covid reopening plan?

Italy has announced a timeline for relaxing its Covid restrictions - but is it realistic? Here's what some of the country's leading health experts have to say about it.

pedestrians, wearing protective face masks, walk next to the Rialto Bridge in Venice, northeastern Italy, on January 11, 2022.
Italy's government has announced plans to scrap its indoor mask requirements from May 1st. Photo by Laurent EMMANUEL / AFP

On Thursday, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced that his cabinet had signed off on a ‘reopening decree’ or decreto riapertura containing the timeline for easing the country’s Covid restrictions.

The decree’s official text has yet to be published, but according to Italian news reports, it provides for the gradual relaxation of Italy’s ‘green pass’ Covid health certificate rules from April 1st, and the scrapping of the green pass from May 1st in all contexts outside of hospitals and care homes.

READ ALSO: Italy to end Covid ‘super green pass’ requirement from May 1st

Masks will also reportedly no longer be required in indoor venues or on public transport from May 1st; and a vaccination mandate currently in place for all those in Italy who are over 50 or due to turn 50 by June 15th is set to expire on that date. 

Italy’s Covid-related state of emergency or stato di emergenza, active since January 31st, 2020, will officially come to an end on March 31st.

In the light of the country’s rising Covid infection curve, some health experts warn the rules are being relaxed too soon.

READ ALSO: Will Italy continue lifting Covid restrictions as infections rise?

A report from Italy’s Higher Institute of Health (ISS) on Friday showed that its infection rate has continued to climb over the past week, with confirmed case numbers standing at almost 70 thousand as of March 20th.

These figures have led Nino Cartabellotta, president of Italy’s evidence-based medicine foundation Gimbe, to denounce the goverment’s plans to eliminate indoor mask mandates as “madness”.

Other health professionals, however, citing the public’s fatigue with Covid restrictions and the need to pave the way for a return to normality, have embraced the proposals.

Interviewed by the news outlet Adnkronos, Matteo Bassetti, director of the Infectious Diseases Clinic at the San Martino Polyclinic in Genoa, spoke in favour of the government’s plans.

“It seems to me that, in general, Prime Minister Draghi listens more to the common sense of a part of science than his Health Minister and he is right to do so,” Bassetti is reported to have said. 

“All the European countries are already doing it and now we will do it too, it is a decision that we can share in.”

Quoted in the Il Giorno news daily, the virologist Fabrizio Pregliasco, a professor at the State University of Milan, agreed.

Having previously warned against the dangers of “turning on the hot water tap all of a sudden,” Pregliasco praised the government’s gradual timeline and applauded “the prudence that has always correctly distinguished the Italian approach over and above our impulses and the desire for a return to normality.”

READ ALSO: TIMELINE: Where and when will Italy relax its Covid rules?

“We have to face reality,” concurs Andrea Crisanti, director of the Department of Molecular Microbiology at the University of Padua, who, speaking on the Radio 24 programme 24 Mattino last week, voiced his approval of the government’s plans to abolish preemptive quarantine for close contacts of Covid patients.

“If we were talking about the Wuhan variant I would disagree, but with this latest variant which has a transmission index of 12, in which most people are asymptomatic, plus the vaccinated – if they become infected they don’t even notice it, and the impact that quarantine has is limited.”

“You have to look at things for what they are. The picture has completely changed compared to how it was at the beginning.”

High grade FFP2 masks are currently required for on public transport and in stadiums, movie theatres, museums and sporting events in Italy.

High grade FFP2 masks are currently required for on public transport and in stadiums, movie theatres, museums and at sporting events across Italy. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

Other commentators, however, are more cautious.

“Yesterday there were almost 80,000 Covid infections in Italy,” Massimo Galli, former director of infectious diseases at the Sacco Hospital in Milan, told Adnkronos Health on Friday in response to Thursday’s press conference.

“It is clear that this is not over. A misunderstood ‘free everyone’ message could cost us dearly when it comes to the pandemic. It seems like a déjà-vu. It’s important not to think that the matter is over and done with.”

“The health emergency is not over,” echoes Walter Ricciardi, Professor of General and Applied Hygiene at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the Catholic University and the Minister of Health’s scientific advisor for the coronavirus.

“On the health level, the crisis will continue and, probably, the growth of infections will continue and – if we do not stop them – there will be a strong wave between June and July.”

“Pre-pandemic decision-making mechanisms will need to be restored. We will need to be very careful because if we do not coordinate well in this phase, in the absence of legal state of emergency measures, there will be an open door for the virus to circulate between the regions.”

Last week’s ISS report showed a gradual increase in Covid case numbers, though hospitalisations and deaths remain in decline.

While most health experts agree that Italy’s government is right to have put together a roadmap laying out a return to normality, they caution that its leaders should continue to closely monitor and act in response to the data.

Mario Clerici, professor of immunology at the University of Milan and scientific director of the Don Gnocchi Foundation, believes that given that “sooner or later the obligation to wear masks indoors must be removed,” the government’s timeline makes sense.

He himself, however, intends to continue wearing a mask for several more months, and expects the “vast majority” of Italians to do the same, as it makes people feel reassured.

Clerici also thinks the decree could have been clearer, complaining that the government “could not have made it more complex”.

In particular, the provision that allows for tourists, but not Italian residents, to dine indoors at restaurants during the month of April without producing a ‘green pass’ Covid health certificate “seems somewhat absurd and difficult to put into practice,” he argues.

READ ALSO: How Italy’s Covid green pass rules will change for tourists in April

Italy plans to ease its 'green pass' rules for tourists at hotels and restaurants from April
Italy plans to ease its ‘green pass’ rules for tourists at hotels and restaurants from April. Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP

Currently, a ‘super green pass’ showing the holder has been vaccinated against or recovered from Covid is required to access most venues and services in Italy, including all public transport. A ‘basic green pass’, which can be obtained by testing negative for the virus, is required to access the workplace and most shops.

The epidemiologist Pier Luigi Lopalco, a professor of hygiene at the University of Salento, would prefer if the government’s green pass requirements were maintained for at least the next few months.

“It has proved to be the only effective weapon to increase adherence to the anti Covid vaccination. It’s a tool that worked,” he told Adnkronos.

“It costs nothing to keep it until the summer. Putting out this message in a situation where throughout the spring there will continue to be a very high viral circulation could be useful.”

Member comments

  1. If all a mask does is make people “feel reassured,” which is about all they do, then the sooner the requirement to do so is lifted the better. It’s ludicrous to wear them outside and the efficacy of them inside is highly debatable, particularly the way they are worn. In any case, the mental health issues have long since shown up in the data. Time to move forward and live normally.

  2. Prof Lopalco’s enthusiasm to keep the (not so) super green pass going, stating that ‘It costs nothing to keep it until the summer’ shows that he is completely out of touch with how deeply it has affected some people. There are high human costs to all of these overly stringent measures. As balance let’s hear about the UK/France/Switzerland where all restrictions have been abolished already. Also surely everyone is aware by now that Omicron is mild in all cases, not just the unvaccinated, and certainly not just the under 50s. It is OVER, let’s get back to normal, not a ‘new normal’, and let’s do it now.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Masks to remain mandatory on Italian flights after May 16th

It will still be obligatory for passengers to wear masks on flights to Italy until mid-June, despite the end of the EU-wide requirement on Monday, May 16th, the Italian government has confirmed.

Masks to remain mandatory on Italian flights after May 16th

The Italian government reiterated on Friday that its current mask-wearing rules remain in place until June 15th, reports newspaper Corriere della Sera.

This means the mask mandate will still apply to all air passengers travelling to or from Italy, despite the end of an EU-wide requirement to wear masks on flights and at airports across the bloc from Monday.

READ ALSO: Reader question: What type of mask will I need for travel to Italy?

National regulations take precedence, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) confirmed when announcing the end of the EU rules.

“Wearing face masks at airports and inflight should be aligned with national measures on wearing masks in public transport and transport hubs,” they said in a joint statement published on May 11th.

READ ALSO: Why are so many Italians still wearing face masks in shops?

“If either the departure or destination States require the wearing of face masks on public transport, aircraft operators should require passengers and crew to comply with those requirements inflight, beyond 16 May 2022.

“Further, as of 16 May 2022, aircraft operators, during their pre-flight communications as well as during the flight, should continue to encourage their passengers and crew members to wear face masks during the flight as well as in the airport, even when wearing a face mask is not required”.

The Spanish government also said on Thursday that air passengers would have to continue wearing face masks on planes.

Italy’s current rules specify that higher-grade FFP2 masks should be worn on all forms of public transport, including buses, trams, regional and high-speed trains, ferries, and planes.

Though rules were eased in some settings from May 1st, masks also remain a requirement until June 15th at Italy’s cinemas and theatres, hospitals and care homes, indoor sporting event and concert venues, schools and universities.