UPDATE: What are the new Covid rules in Italy’s schools?

Italy's government has updated its rules for how schools across the country should act to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Here's what changes from Monday.

UPDATE: What are the new Covid rules in Italy's schools?
Pupils wait to enter a high school in Rome in September 2020. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

From November 8th, schools across Italy are operating under a new set of guidelines with regards to self-isolation requirements in cases where a student or teacher tests positive for the coronavirus.

A communique put out by the Ministry of Education on November 6th states that from Monday, an automatic quarantine requirement for staff and students should be triggered only in the event that three people in a given class test positive for Covid-19, reports the news agency Ansa.

In situations where only one member of the class tests positive, students should continue to come to school, but will need to take a test as soon as possible after their classmate’s infection is discovered and on the fifth day after that.

Where two members test positive, classmates who are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid in the past six months will continue to come to school under the zero and five-day testing regime, while all others will be required to self-isolate.

Until now, an automatic quarantine requirement has been in place in cases where any student or teacher tests positive for the virus, with vaccinated students subject to a seven day self isolation period and the non-vaccinated required to isolate for ten days.

READ ALSO: Italy outlines plan to resist Covid closures as four million students return to school

The new measures are intended to try to keep schools open as far as possible as the rate of new Covid infections rises across the country.

Italy’s education minister Patrizio Bianchi had previously said before schools reopened in September that the government would do everything in its power to ensure they would remain open as far as possible, and has put a range of strategies in place to make this happen.

The most significant change this year is the requirement for school staff, external workers, and parents – basically anyone who isn’t a student – to show a green pass in order to gain access to school premises.

The new rule came into effect for school employees on September 1st, and was expanded on September 9th to include external workers such as cleaning company and canteen staff, as well as parents of schoolchildren.

The health certificate proves bearers have been vaccinated with at least one dose, have recovered from Covid-19 within the past six months, or have tested negative in the previous 48-72 hours (depending on the type of test take). Unvaccinated individuals may therefore access school buildings, but must take a pharmacy-administered Covid test every two days at their own expense.

READ ALSO: Parents in Italy to require Covid green pass to enter schools

Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

READ ALSO: UPDATE: Where do you now need to show a Covid green pass in Italy?

According to the Italian news site, the Ministry of Education has developed a new ‘super app’ that will allow school principals and administrative staff to automate the process of checking that their staff are complying with the requirement.

Staff who are without passes for five days straight will be suspended and have their pay frozen, while non-staff members caught entering schools without the certificate face fines of up to €1,000.

Many of the safety measures that were in place previously have continued into this school year, including masks for everyone aged over six, staggered entrance and exit times, and quarantine rules for classes with positive cases, as well as the possibility of some classes still being taught online, depending on the health situation in each local area and the rules provided under Italy’s tiered system of restrictions.

READ ALSO: What changes about life in Italy in September 2021?

Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Schools are also required to have separate designated entrance and exit zones, and only one parent is allowed to accompany their child directly outside the school building for drop offs and pick ups. Students’ temperatures should be taken as they leave at the end of the school day, but not on arrival.

READ ALSO: Italy considers dropping school mask mandate for fully-vaccinated classes

Social distancing of one metre between each student is no longer a requirement in classrooms which lack the space, as long as other safety measures are observed. The Ministry of Education recommends keeping windows in classroom open, and some schools have invested in new ventilation systems, but it’s been left up to individual institutions to undertake such initiatives.

Towards the start of September, Bianchi said he hoped to remove the mask mandate for fully-vaccinated classes of schoolchildren in the coming weeks and months, despite warnings from some experts that such a move might be premature.

This prospect is now looking increasingly unlikely as the Covid infection rate in Italy has started to climb.

READ ALSO: Analysis: Why are Covid infections in Italy rising?

Italy’s health ministry on Friday reported that the Rt number, which shows the rate of transmission, has now risen above the critical threshold of 1 for the first time in months. An Rt number above 1 indicates that the epidemic is in a phase of expansion.

Scientists believe the prevalence of the more infectious Delta variant, colder weather, and an increase in gatherings and travel are all factors contributing to the rise in cases.

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‘Not offensive’: Italian minister defends Covid testing rule for China arrivals

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani defended the policy of testing all arrivals from China for Covid-19 after Beijing said the policy "lacks scientific basis".

'Not offensive': Italian minister defends Covid testing rule for China arrivals

“It seems perfectly normal to me,” Tajani told Italian state broadcaster Rai on Tuesday. “Having a test is a way to protect people’s health. There is nothing offensive about it.”

“Lots of Chinese and Italians coming from China do it (anyway),” he claimed.

READ ALSO: Is the EU likely to reinstate Covid travel restrictions?

Italy was the first European country to make testing on arrival a requirement for passengers arriving on flights from China last week, after a surge in the infection rate there.

Italian Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said on Wednesday that the screening requirement was “essential to ensure the surveillance and identification of any variants of the virus in order to protect the Italian population”.

READ ALSO: Italy pushes for EU-wide China Covid measures as tests show no new variants

France and Spain have since introduced similar rules (as well as non-EU countries including the UK and USA) and there is now a meeting scheduled for Wednesday of the EU Integrated Policy Response Capability to discuss coordinating measures.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said the screening policy would be “ineffective” if not done on a European level, as only people arriving on direct flights from China were being tested in Italy, not those with stopovers.

But the Chinese government on Tuesday hit out at countries introducing a policy of mandatory testing for people arriving from China.

“Some countries have taken entry restrictions targeting only Chinese travellers,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning was quoted as saying at a briefing by AFP.

“This lacks scientific basis and some practices are unacceptable”.

She said Beijing may “take countermeasures based on the principle of reciprocity”.