Italy’s state of emergency is over ‘but the pandemic isn’t’, says health minister

Italy enters a 'new phase' from April 1st, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said, as the country prepares to ease many of its Covid-19 health restrictions.

Italy's state of emergency is over 'but the pandemic isn't', says health minister
Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza (R) gives a press conference with Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) on changes to the country’s Covid-19 health restrictions. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

After two years and two months, Italy’s pandemic stato di emergenza, or state of emergency, comes to an end on Thursday, March 31st.

The date is largely symbolic for Italy, since the state of emergency in itself does not determine the health restrictions in place in the country. However, the government has also approved the easing of many pandemic-related rules from the very next day.

Italy will loosen Covid green pass requirements at many venues from Friday onwards – though Speranza reiterated that face masks would remain a requirement indoors and on public transport.

“The end of the state of emergency does not mean that the virus is gone or that the pandemic is over”. Speranza told Italian TV chat show ‘Che tempo che fa’ on Sunday, as he stressed that many health restrictions would remain in place for at least another month.

“Compared to other countries we have chosen a more gradual approach,” Speranza said.

“It is a new phase. It would be foolish to think we could manage the pandemic in the same way as a year ago”.

READ ALSO: How do Italy’s Covid rules change in April?

He said further rule changes planned for May 1st – when the mask mandate and green pass system are expected to end altogether – will be “evaluated” throughout April.

First declared in late January 2020, the state of emergency is the condition that has allowed the government to pass new laws quickly by decree in response to the quickly evolving health situation.

The condition meant Italy’s former prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, was able to enforce the first nationwide lockdown in the Western world in early March 2020 soon after northern Italy became the epicentre of Europe’s first known coronavirus outbreak.

After being extended numerous times since, the state of emergency comes to an end as cases rise again in Italy and many other parts of Europe.

Despite this, Speranza said Italy can now “deal with a virus that is no longer unknown using different tools,” and stressed that the country “has a high rate of protection” thanks to 91 percent of the population being vaccinated.

The end of the state of emergency does mean Thursday is the last day General Francesco Figliuolo will serve as Italy’s emergency coronavirus commissioner. 

After overseeing the pandemic response under Prime Minister Mario Draghi for the past year, Figliuolo will step down and the responsibility for management will be passed to civil protection and other government departments.

Italy’s technical-scientific committee (CTS), the panel of health experts which has advised the government’s every move on managing the pandemic, will also be dissolved as of March 31st.

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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.