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COVID-19 RULES

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. 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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COVID-19 RULES

Italy allows suspended anti-vax doctors to return to work

Italian heathcare staff suspended over their refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19 can now return to work, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni confirmed on Monday.

Italy allows suspended anti-vax doctors to return to work

Italy become the first country in Europe to make it obligatory for healthcare workers to be vaccinated, ruling in 2021 that they must have the jab or be transferred to other roles or suspended without pay.

That obligation had been set to expire in December, but was brought forward to Tuesday due to “a shortage of medical and health personnel”, Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said.

READ ALSO: Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

Italy was the first European country to be hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, and has since registered nearly 180,000 deaths.

Schillaci first announced the plan to scrap the rule on Friday in a statement saying data showed the virus’ impact on hospitals  “is now limited”.

Those who refuse vaccination will be “reintegrated” into the workforce before the rule expires at the end of this year, as part of what the minister called a “gradual return to normality”.

Meloni said the move, which has been criticised by the centre-left as a win for anti-vax campaigners, would mean some 4,000 healthcare workers can return to work.

This includes some 1,579 doctors and dentists refusing vaccination, according to records at the end of October, representing 0.3 percent of all those registered with Italy’s National Federation of the Orders of Physicians, Surgeons and Dentists (Fnomceo) 

Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy party railed against the way Mario Draghi’s government handled the pandemic, when it was the main opposition party, and she promised to use her first cabinet meetings to mark a clear break in policies with her predecessor.

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