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COVID-19 RULES

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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COVID-19 RULES

At a glance: What are Italy’s Covid-19 rules this autumn?

Italy has very few pandemic-related restrictions left, but there are still some rules you should be aware of.

At a glance: What are Italy's Covid-19 rules this autumn?

After over two years of Covid-related social and health measures, there are currently very few restrictions in place across Italy. 

But, as Italy’s head of state, Sergio Mattarella, warns that “the virus hasn’t been fully defeated yet” and “collective responsibility” is needed, there are still some rules you need to be aware of. 

READ ALSO: Italy eases Covid measures ahead of new government 

Whether you regularly reside in Italy or are simply planning to visit in the coming weeks, here’s a quick overview of Italy’s Covid rules for the autumn. 

Travel to and within Italy

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

As of June 1st, people are no longer required to show proof of Covid vaccination, recent recovery from the virus or a negative molecular or antigen test result in order to enter the country.

That was the last remaining Covid-related rule in place for travellers – the requirement for arrivals to complete an EU digital passenger locator form (dPLF) had been lifted on May 1st.

Masks

The requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (buses, trains, trams, ferries, etc.) lapsed on Friday, September 30th, after outgoing PM Mario Draghi chose not to renew the mandate in question. 

However, Draghi and his cabinet did extend the requirement to wear face masks in all healthcare settings and care homes, with the rule now expected to expire on October 31st. 

It’s worth noting that anyone refusing to comply with face mask rules can still face fines ranging from a minimum of €400 to a maximum of €1000.

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

Medical staff members walk in a corridor at the Covid-19 intensive care unit of Cremona hospital, in Cremona, northern Italy, on January 11, 2022.

Those in healthcare setting and care homes in Italy must continue to wear masks until at least the end of October. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

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

As for the private sector, all employees working in settings where social distancing is not practicable will be required to wear FFP2 face masks.

The above mandate should expire on October 31st, though a further extension cannot be ruled out at this moment in time.

Green passes

Italy no longer requires people to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a recent negative test result to access indoor settings or public venues.

That means you won’t need to show any form of health certificate in order to eat in a restaurant, visit a museum or use public transport.

However, if you wish to visit a friend or family member in an Italian hospital or care home you will need to produce proof of vaccination or recovery, or the negative result of a molecular or antigen test taken within 48 hours prior to your visit.

READ ALSO: What is Italy’s Covid vaccination plan this autumn?

Proof of vaccination, recent recovery or a negative Covid test is required for those visiting friends or family members in Italian care homes. Photo by Thierry ZOCCOLAN / AFP.

If you’re a foreign national holding a foreign health pass, the Italian government recognises proof of vaccination or recovery issued abroad, provided that it meets certain requirements

For further information on the types of vaccines accepted in Italy, please see the following government memo.

Italian healthcare staff are still required to produce a valid ‘super green pass’ (i.e. the national health pass certifying that the holder has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or has recovered from it) to be able to work.

The above mandate is scheduled to expire on December 31st, with a further extension having already been ruled out by Marcello Gemmato, head of health policy for election winners Brothers of Italy. 

Quarantine rules

Italy still requires anyone who tests positive for coronavirus while in the country to self-isolate, though the minimum isolation period was cut from seven days to five in early September.

In order to exit quarantine, the infected person must be symptomless (with the exception of symptoms relating to loss of taste or smell) for at least two days, and must test negative to a molecular (PCR) or rapid antigen test at the end of that period.

Quarantine and testing to release is still require for those who test positive for Covid in Italy.

Quarantine and testing to release is still required for those who test positive for Covid in Italy. Photo by Piero Cruciatti / AFP.

Testing should be carried out at a registered pharmacy or testing centre. The results of home tests are not seen as valid for this purpose.

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

Should the patient continue to test positive, they must remain in isolation until they get a negative test result. However, the maximum length of the self-isolation period has been cut to 14 days, down from 21.

The above isolation requirements apply to everyone, including those who are fully vaccinated against Covid or have recently recovered from it.

Finally, those who come into close contact with an infected person but do not show any symptoms are required to wear an FFP2 face mask both indoors and outdoors for the ten days following the day when the contact occurred.

Other restrictions

Italy no longer has any active restrictions on businesses’ opening times or capacity. However, individual businesses can still set different rules than those enforced at a national level.

Moreover, there are currently no restrictions on travel between regions, though local authorities have the power to impose their own measures at any time.

Italian health authorities continue to advise residents to respect social distancing when possible and wash their hands frequently.

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

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