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SCHOOLS

Italy considers dropping school mask mandate for fully-vaccinated classes

Schoolchildren in Italy could be exempted from the requirement to wear a mask in cases where the entire classroom is vaccinated, Education Minister Patrizio Bianchi has said.

Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP
Photo: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP

The minister highlighted that the provision was already contained in the August 6th decree (the latest government decree which dictates Italy’s Covid rules), and “didn’t just come from my head,” reports the Italian news daily Il Messaggero.

He went on to underscore that the exemption was prospective and stressed that for now the requirement to wear a mask remained in place across all schools, but suggested it could provide an incentive to get vaccinated, “not only for the child but for the community.”

Recent coverage of the provision comes amid reports that one third of all Covid-19 cases in August were detected in children and young people between 0-19 years old, caused by the spread of the Delta variant.

More than 92% of school staff across the country are now vaccinated, according to Bianchi, with the rate rising to 100% in some regions including Campania and Puglia.

Handout / AFP

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What parents in Italy should know about new Covid rules in schools

Since September 1st, teachers and other school staff have been required to show a valid health pass or ‘green pass’ to gain entry to school premises, and as of Thursday it was reported that the government intended to immediately extend the mandate to cleaning companies working in schools and to school canteen staff.

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 hours. Unvaccinated employees may therefore access school buildings, but must take a pharmacy-administered Covid test every two days at their own expense.

Some experts and health officials in Italy are divided over how long and in what context mask mandates should remain in place.

READ ALSO: Italy set to release roadmap for workplace Covid ‘green pass’

RODRIGO BUENDIA / AFP

Franco Locatelli, head of the expert advisory panel to Italy’s health ministry, told Sky News that the end of 2022 is the earliest date that the government might be able to reconsider masking requirements more generally – but noted that everything hangs on the progress of Italy’s vaccination campaign and the possible arrival of new coronavirus variants.

Italy’s undersecretary of health Pierpaolo Sileri has held out the possibility that the requirement to mask up in indoor public spaces could be eliminated, but only in certain circumstances where green pass checks were being conducted.

Meanwhile Dr. Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe foundation for evidence-based medicine, said that he thinks removing masking requirements in classrooms could be a mistake, tweeting: “In the classroom there are not adequate safety conditions to remove the mask even if everyone is vaccinated”.

And while Bianchi has said he considers the prospect of maskless classrooms “a strong signal of the return to normality”, Sergio Abrignani, a member of Italy’s Technical Scientific Committee (CTS), told Sky News that given the infectiousness of the Delta variant, “It would be better to keep wearing masks as much as possible and use protective devices, distancing and ventilation.”

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COVID-19 RULES

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.

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