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Fourth jabs and isolation: Italy’s plan to control Covid cases this summer

As Italy this week recorded its highest rate of Covid cases since February, what are the government’s plans to contain the spread?

Fourth jabs and isolation: Italy's plan to control Covid cases this summer
A nurse is pictured at a Covid-19 vaccination hub in Rome. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

The rate of Covid infections has been rising across Italy, and much of Europe, for weeks.

The latest figures from Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, showed another sharp increase in new infections over the past seven days, while the hospitalisation rate was also moving the wrong direction once again.

A total of 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week, the report said.

In the same period, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003. 

The death toll rose by 18 percent, with 464 deaths registered in the last seven days compared to 392 in the previous week.

Hospital ward occupancy “is expected to increase in the next few weeks”, the report said.

As the situation worsened, health experts last week called for large events to be cancelled and implored the public to voluntarily wear masks – after the requirement was scrapped everywhere other than on public transport and in healthcare settings.

“At this stage, besides accelerating the administration of fourth doses to at-risk patients, it is essential to contain the spread of the virus by using masks,” said Nino Cartabellotta, head of Gimbe Foundation.

Now the question many people in Italy – as well as those planning a visit – are asking is whether any of the country’s previous strict Covid containment measures are likely to make a comeback.

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

Few restrictions remain in place in Italy, with most Covid-related rules dropped by mid-June.

Entry rules for travellers, including the requirement to show proof of a negative test result, have been scrapped entirely.

But some rules remain firmly in place: most notably the continuing mask mandate on public transport (in place until at least the end of September) and the requirement for anyone who tests positive to isolate for at least one week.

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

But there have been no reports that the government is considering tightening up any other measures – at least, not yet.

The health ministry so far appears to be primarily looking at maintaining the country’s relatively high rate of vaccination coverage: 90 percent of the population over 12 years old has been fully vaccinated with at least two doses, official data shows.

On Monday, health minister Roberto Speranza confirmed that fourth vaccine doses will soon be available to over-60s across the country.

He said the government was about to give the green light to administer doses to this age group “immediately”, as Italy “moves in line” with recommendations from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Currently only over-80s, care home residents, and clinically vulnerable patients are eligible for a fourth shot in Italy.

Speranza didn’t say when fourth jabs would be made available to all, stating only that “a new vaccination campaign” is set to begin in September.

Meanwhile, Gimbe’s report pointed out that the uptake of fourth doses among the most vulnerable remains far lower than hoped, with 78 percent of over-80s not yet accepting the offer.

While there was no word from government officials as to whether they’re considering the reintroduction of restrictions, Italy’s most prominent health experts are in favour according to newspaper Corriere della Sera.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“The circulation of the virus must be managed and regulated,” health ministry advisor Walter Ricciardi reportedly said on Monday.

The president of Italy’s Higher Health Institute, Franco Locatelli, said his organisation has “no intention of letting the virus run free. In this epidemiological situation it doesn’t even seem appropriate to hypothesise it.”

Some regional health authorities have for weeks been urging the government to reinstate the recently-scrapped requirement to wear masks in all indoor public places, saying the current lack of precautions puts those working in the tourism industry – and therefore the whole sector – at particular risk.

“If we don’t stem the number of infections, soon there will be no more employees at hotels and restaurants, because everyone is at home in isolation,” the Lazio region’s health councillor, Alessio D’Amato, told Il Messaggero at the end of June.

“Let me be clear: the time for closures is over, but we must protect ourselves with masks,” he said. “And it cannot be the decision of a single region; it must be the government that makes this choice.”

Member comments

  1. I contracted the Omicron variant a couple months after arriving in Italy in 2022. Fortunately, I had 3 shots with one received only a few months prior to exposure. I did get extremely ill and at one time considered going to the emergency room, but I waited, isolated and recovered at home.

    More recently, I had a severe cold, congestion, and fever for 10 days. I speculated whether it was a variant, but didn’t exhibit all the symptoms that ID’ed it as COVID. It did reinforce my desire to get a 4th shot to boost my immunity. Since I’m a few years shy of Italy’s 75 year age limit, I had planned to return to my home country to get the shot.

    It’s likely many people, especially those not in the Italian health service, can’t get vaccinated at all. Also, many still disregard mask-wearing in crowds. It’s apparent in many places I go, especially in those inevitable lines in which many of us wait to conduct business (and where social distancing is nigh impossible). As an elderly person, I wear my mask in those situations, but it didn’t help to prevent either of my illnesses.

    I realize controlling and managing the disease is necessary, but there might be a better way to do that. Vaccinations should be available within and outside of the health service. The eligible age limit for shots should align with what is being done internationally. In addition, affordable COVID tests should be available through the mail, so you don’t have to leave your home when you might be contagious to get tested. Combined, these close a large hole in the prevention safety net.

    I’ve heard people complain about how difficult the Italian bureaucracy can be, but I have a lot of admiration for much for how they and Italian citizens handled the pandemic. The country suffered terribly and yet they faced the danger with strength, compassion, and consistency.

    Having said that, I respectfully submit that September is a long way away for the rest of the summer filled with tourists and travelers. Time is of the essence and emergency measure might be needed.

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Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

The health ministry is reviewing its quarantine requirements as the country's Covid-19 health situation improved again this week, according to Italian media reports.

Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

Italy has taken a more cautious approach to Covid in recent months than many of its European neighbours, keeping strict isolation rules in place for anyone who tests positive for the virus.

But this could be set to change in the coming days, according to media reports, as one of Italy’s deputy health ministers said the government is about to cut the isolation period for asymptomatic cases.

“Certainly in the next few days there will be a reduction in isolation for those who are positive but have no symptoms,” Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa said in a TV interview on the political talk show Agorà on Tuesday.

“We have to manage to live with the virus,” he said.

Italy’s La Stampa newspaper reported that the compulsory isolation period could be reduced to 48 hours for those who test positive but remain asymptomatic – provided they subsequently test negative after the day two mark.

Under Italy’s current rules, vaccinated people who test positive must stay in isolation for at least seven days, and unvaccinated people for ten days – regardless of whether or not they have any symptoms.

READ ALSO: How tourists and visitors can get a coronavirus test in Italy

At the end of the isolation period, the patient has to take another test to exit quarantine. Those who test negative are free to leave; those who remain positive must stay in isolation until they get a negative test result, up to a maximum of 21 days in total (at which point it doesn’t matter what the test result says).

Health ministry sources indicated the new rules would cut the maximum quarantine period to 15 or even 10 days for people who continue to test positive after the initial isolation period is up, La Stampa said.

The government is believed to be reviewing the rules as the latest official data showed Covid infection and hospitalisation rates were slowing again this week, as the current wave of contagions appeared to have peaked in mid-July.

However, the national Rt number (which shows the rate of transmission) remained above the epidemic threshold, and the number of fatalities continued to rise.

The proposed changes still aren’t lenient enough for some parties. Regional authorities have been pushing for an end to quarantine altogether, even for people who are actively positive – an idea Costa appears sympathetic to.

“The next step I think is to consider the idea of even eliminating the quarantine, perhaps by wearing a mask and therefore being able to go to work,” he told reporters.

“We must review the criteria for isolation, to avoid blocking the country again”.

At least one health expert, however, was unenthusiastic about the proposal.

Dr Nino Cartabellotta, head of Italy’s evidence-based medicine group Gimbe, tweeted on Tuesday: “There are currently no epidemiological or public health reasons to abolish the isolation of Covid-19 positives”

Massimo Andreoni, professor of Infectious Diseases at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the Tor Vergata University of Rome, was more ambivalent about the prospect.

The isolation requirement for asymptomatic cases should be “revised somewhat in the light of the epidemiological data”, he told reporters, but urged “a minimum of precaution, because the less the virus circulates and the fewer severe cases there are, the fewer new variants arise”.

When the question was last raised at the end of June, Health Minister Roberto Speranza was firmly against the idea of lifting quarantine requirements for people who were Covid positive.

“At the moment such a thing is not in question,” he told newspaper La Repubblica at the time. “Anyone who is infected must stay at home.”