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

Italy has lifted almost all of its pandemic-related health restrictions, but there are still some rules to be aware of.

Italian police officer on patrol in Rome.
Police patrols have been stepped up in Italy in recent weeks as stricter Covid rules come in. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto

After years of frequently changing health measures in Italy, it can be hard to keep up with exactly what rules are in place.

For the first time in a long time, Italy now has almost no Covid restrictions in place and the rules are not expected to change in the coming weeks.

READ ALSO: Italy to keep quarantine rules in place as Covid cases rise

But, as the Italian health ministry remains cautious about managing the pandemic, there are still a couple of rules you’ll need to be aware of.

If you’re planning to visit Italy soon, here’s what to expect.

Travel to and within Italy

Travel to Italy for any reason, including tourism, is currently allowed from all countries.

As of June 1st, Italy has scrapped the requirement to show proof of coronavirus vaccination, recent recovery or a negative test result in order to enter the country.

This was the last remaining Covid-related rule in place for travellers to Italy, after the requirement for arrivals to complete an EU digital passenger locator form (dPLF) was lifted on May 1st.


Italy’s government on June 15th lifted its mask mandate for almost all public places.

However, higher-grade FFP2 masks remain a requirement on all forms of public transport, except for flights (both domestic and international) under rules which will stay in place until at least the end of September.

Masks also remain obligatory in hospitals, care homes and all other types of healthcare facilities.

Anyone refusing to comply with the rules can still face a fine of 400 euros.

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

Though it’s no longer a requirement, the government continues to advise people to wear masks in all crowded areas, including outdoors.

Private businesses and individual venues, including galleries and museums, may also impose their own mask mandates. 

Mask rules have been eased in Italy except for on public transport – though they remain recommended in crowded places. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Quarantine rules

Italy still requires anyone who tests positive for coronavirus while in the country to isolate for at least one week.

Following public debate over whether the isolation rule should now the scrapped, Italy’s health minister confirmed in late June that he has no intention of changing it anytime soon.

The health ministry’s existing rules state that anyone who tests positive while in Italy is required to immediately self-isolate for a minimum of seven days – if they’re fully vaccinated or recently recovered from Covid.

For anyone who is not classed as fully vaccinated or recently recovered, the isolation period is extended to 10 days.

In either case, the infected person must have been symptomless for at least three days in order to exit quarantine (with the exception of symptoms relating to a lost sense of taste or smell).

Reader question: How do Italy’s Covid quarantine rules work for travellers?

The patient must also test negative for the virus via either a molecular (PCR) or rapid antigen test on the final day of the quarantine in order to be allowed out.

Quarantined people who keep testing positive for the virus can be kept in self-isolation for a maximum of 21 days.

Read more about getting tested while in Italy in a separate article here.


Green passes

Italy no longer requires people to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a recent negative test result under the ‘green pass’ system which was in place last summer.

That means you’ll no longer need to show any form of health certificate in order to eat in a restaurant, visit museums, stay in a hotel, or use public transport.
However, if you end up visiting a hospital you will need to show proof of vaccination or recovery, or of a negative test result within the past 48 hours.
You won’t need an Italian green pass if you’re just visiting; Italy recognises proof of vaccination or recovery issued abroad as equivalent, providing it meets certain requirements.

Other restrictions

Italy no longer has any restrictions in place on business opening times or capacity.

Within Italy, there are no restrictions on travel and movement between regions under current rules set by the national government, though local authorities can impose their own measures at any time.

Note that local authorities and individual businesses in Italy can still set different rules than those at the national level, meaning certain rules may continue to vary from one place to another.

Italy’s health authorities continue to recommend precautions including social distancing and frequent hand-washing.

For more information about how the rules may apply to you, see the Italian health ministry’s website or consult the Italian embassy in your country.