Italian health experts warn against ‘reckless’ end to Covid mask rule in May

Amid high coronavirus infection rates, some health experts say the Italian government’s plan to discard mask requirements by May 1st would be rash.

Italian health experts warn against 'reckless' end to Covid mask rule in May
The use of higher-grade FFP2 masks on public transport and at theatres, museums and other venues is currently mandatory in Italy. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

With ten days to go until May 1st, the date when the obligation to wear face masks indoors in Italy is meant to come to an end, some of the country’s most distinguished health experts have warned against the government’s plan.

READ ALSO: Will Italy end its Covid mask mandate on May 1st?

“The virus is still spreading at a very high rate,” said Nino Cartabellotta, the president of Italy’s foundation for evidence-based medicine, Gimbe, on Thursday.

“The number of positive cases exceeds the 1.2 million mark,” he said, while “the test positivity rate is over 15 percent”.

“Because of that, dispensing with face mask rules would be a very reckless move,” he added.

Cartabellotta’s comments came following similar criticism from health experts including Silvio Garattini, founder of Milan’s Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research and senior pharmacologist.

“If we remove the obligation [to wear face masks] now, we risk sending the message that it is all over. That’s not the case,” he said in an interview with La Repubblica, adding: “The government should reiterate that the situation is still alarming and say how things truly are.”

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said last week that the decision on masks was not final, and that rule changes from May 1st would be confirmed “in the last ten days of April”.

“After Easter … we will conduct a further evaluation with our scientific experts and decide,” he said.

The minister stressed that: “At this moment my very strong recommendation is to use a mask on all occasions when there are risks, because viral circulation is very high”.

With the holidays now behind us, the health ministry is now set to make a definitive decision in the coming days as to whether the obligation to wear face masks in all indoor public places will instead become a recommendation.

There were suggestions earlier this week that the government may now keep the rules in place longer than expected – at least in some situations.

“I’m convinced that it would be right to go from an obligation to wear masks in enclosed spaces to a recommendation, keeping them in some places such as on public transport,” Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa said in an interview with Rai News 24.

“Now it’s a question of evaluating whether to keep them in some special situations, where there is a higher concentration of people.”

At the moment, Italy still requires masks to be worn in all indoor public places – including in shops and on public transport – and in crowded outdoor areas.

READ ALSO: When do you still have to wear a mask outdoors in Italy?

Italy’s government appears to be relying on the relatively high rate of vaccination coverage in the country to keep serious cases of Covid-19 under control once measures are lifted.

Speranza stressed last week that 90 percent of the Italian population aged over 12 have now had at least the first two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, while 39 million – more than half of the entire population – have had a booster.

But virologist Massimo Galli described the plan to remove masks indoors from May 1st as “nonsense”, saying it would leave immunosuppressed people “excluded” and “at risk”.

Those who are immunosuppressed “can get all the vaccines they want but would still have partial or no protection,” he said in an interview with Radio Capital on Wednesday.

“If they want to go on public transport, they will wear a mask, but if others do not wear one this person is at risk,” he explained. 

Italy currently offers a fourth Covid jab, or second booster, to over-80s and other groups thought to be at the highest risk from the disease. However, Gimbe noted that uptake among these groups has been lower than expected.

Cartabellotta said: “Seven weeks after the start of the campaign for immunosuppressed patients, a coverage rate of 10.2 percent and unjustifiable regional differences prove that the protection of over 790,000 at-risk individuals is simply a mirage for now.”

Gimbe’s report also said 4.2 million people in Italy who are eligible to be vaccinated have still not had their first dose, while another two million had not had a booster.

Member comments

  1. Well after everyone in Sweden, Denmark, France and the UK died after the mask orders there lifted a few weeks or months ago, I totally understand the concerns…

    The European South has been a complete clown show with Germany a close second…

  2. If these were really ‘health experts’ they would know that rates of infection is meaningless to track, and they would also know (and more importantly, admit and promote) that there is extremely effective and cheap medical treatment available for the immunosuppressed (yes even those with stage 4 cancer as I have personally witnessed with a close friend, clearly not here in Europe). But as George points out so accurately above, this would be like asking your butcher to promote vegetarian Mondays…

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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.