Will Italy relax the Covid mask-wearing rules this summer?

As Italy moves toward the next phase of reopening and relaxing its coronavirus rules, the government is looking at whether face masks should remain mandatory in outdoor public places.

Will Italy relax the Covid mask-wearing rules this summer?
Mask rules have been eased in Italy except for on public transport - though they remain recommended in crowded places. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Italy has been one of the most pro-mask countries in Europe since the start of the pandemic, but the Italian government and its panel of scientific experts are now weighing up when to drop, or at least relax, the current requirements.

If you live in Italy, grabbing your mascherina before heading out is probably second nature by now. 

Wearing a face mask in busy public areas has been mandatory since May 2020, and the rules were tightened up again in October 2020 to require mask-wearing at all times in public, indoors or outdoors. The rules are backed up with steep fines for non-compliance.

Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

There has been little resistance to, or pressure to remove, the mask-wearing rules in Italy, where in the early days of the pandemic many people wore face masks in the street voluntarily months before requirements were brought in.

Though after months of sweaty mouths and steamed-up glasses, some people are now wondering when Italy’s vaccination campaign will progress to the point where masks are no longer deemed necessary.

Not least international tourists, for whom the prospect of having to wear a mask in the summer heat while strolling along the lungomare is probably not an enticing one.

READ MORE: What will Italy’s coronavirus rules be for summer 2021?

So far, the Italian government has stressed that safety precautions must stay in place this summer, as it doesn’t expect to have the majority of the population fully vaccinated until autumn.

But as the government puts the final touches to its latest round of rule changes, set to come into force as soon as next week, there are suggestions that it could be time to soften the requirement to wear masks outdoors at all times.

Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Health Undersecretary Pierpaolo Sileri said on Monday that people should no longer have to wear masks outside once 30 million people, approximately half of the Italian population, have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

“I agree with the hypothesis (of relaxing the rule on wearing facemasks outdoors) when 30 million people are vaccinated with at least one dose of a vaccine,” Sileri said in an interview with Radio 24.

Italy will reach that threshold in mid-June, he estimated this week.

“I think it is sensible to put the mask in your pocket outdoors where there are no crowds, and to put it back on your face when there are gatherings and a risk (of contagion)”. 

The Italian health ministry however has not made any official statement on when or if the rule may be changed.

One thing looks certain however: masks are set to remain mandatory at least in indoor public places in Italy for a while longer yet.

Member comments

  1. The CDC has admitted it “miscalculated” the transmission rate of the virus outdoors. Only a slight “miscalculation” though…it’s actually less than 1% and they claimed 10% based on faulty data. And what about the Stanford peer-reviewed paper that cites the physical and psychological dangers of prolonged mask wearing?

  2. The transmission rate outdoors is 0.1%, far less than the chance of being killed in the car accident in the US (1%) which makes wearing masks outside totally absurd. It’s astounding so many people follow this rule, especially as the authorities have mostly giving up fining those who don’t wear them.

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Q&A: What you need to know about Italy’s West Nile virus outbreak

As Italy records a surge in cases of West Nile fever, we look at what the disease is and where in the country it's spreading.

Q&A: What you need to know about Italy's West Nile virus outbreak

Mosquitos are unfortunately one downside of summer in Italy. But as well as being a nuisance, they may also pose a health risk in the country – one of the few in Europe to record cases of West Nile virus (WNV)

READ ALSO: Cases of West Nile fever surge in northern Italy

Last week Italy recorded 50 more cases of the mosquito-borne virus, bringing the total number of infections to 144 according to the latest report from Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS).

This marked a 53-percent increase in cases against the previous week, while ten people have died so far.

As the number of infections continues to rise, here are the answers to the most pressing questions about the disease and the outbreak in Italy.

What is it?

The West Nile Virus (WNV) is a single-stranded RNA virus that can cause West Nile fever in humans.

It’s a member of the Flavivirus family together with other endemic viruses such as the Zika and Dengue viruses.

The virus was first identified in 1937 in Uganda’s West Nile district but has since spread to many other parts of the world, to the point that it is now considered indigenous to Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. 

Carried by birds, West Nile virus is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes.

The West Nile virus is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes of the Culex species, which infect humans and other mammals through their bite, according to Italy’s health ministry.

There is no evidence that human-to-human transmission is possible.

Where are cases being reported in Italy?

Infections have been largely concentrated in the north of the country, especially in the Veneto region, where six people have now died of the disease. Other deaths were recorded in Lombardy, Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna.

The city of Padua, which is located in Veneto’s mainland, around 35 kilometres away from the Adriatic coast, is currently regarded as the hotspot of the virus. 

It isn’t yet clear why Veneto has been the worst-hit region so far, but experts fear that its marshy lowlands might be the perfect breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes. 

A mosquito of the Culex species viewed under a microscope.

Mosquitoes of the Culex species, a specimen of which is pictured above, are responsible for transmitting the West Nile Virus to humans and other mammals. Photo by Jon CHERRY Getty Images / AFP

How severe is the outbreak in Italy?

West Nile virus is not new to Italy. However, this summer has brought the highest number of cases recorded yet.

National infection levels remain relatively low but the country has by far the largest number of cases in Europe.

According to the most recent report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), dated August 3rd, 94 out of 120 recorded cases were in Italy.

Greece had 23 reported cases. Romania and Slovakia had two and one respectively. 

Italy is the only European country that has reported fatalities.

What are the symptoms?

According to the Italian Higher Health Institute (ISS), around 80 percent of infected people show no symptoms whatsoever.

In symptomatic cases, however, symptoms generally resemble those of a common flu and include fever, headaches, nausea and diarrhoea. 

The infection is usually only dangerous for people with weakened immune systems such as the elderly, and the most severe symptoms occur in fewer than one percent of infected people.

In healthy people, the virus is unlikely to cause more than a headache or sore throat, and symptoms generally last only a few days.

According to the data currently available, around one in 150 infected people can show symptoms as serious as partial vision loss, convulsions and paralysis. 

In very rare cases (around 0.1 percent, or one in 1000) the disease can cause brain infections (encephalitis or meningitis) which may eventually be fatal.

Brazilian biologists handle mosquito larvae.

There is currently no vaccine against West Nile disease, though several are being tested. Photo by Apu GOMES / AFP

Is there a cure?

There is no vaccine against West Nile fever. “Currently vaccines are being studied, but for the moment prevention consists mainly in reducing exposure to mosquito bites,” the ISS states.

There is also no specific treatment for the disease caused by the virus.

Patients showing the more serious symptoms are usually admitted to hospital and treated with IV fluids and assisted ventilation.

What should you do to protect yourself?

Seeing as there is currently no vaccine against the virus, the best way to protect oneself is by reducing exposure to mosquitoes as much as possible.

Italian health authorities have listed a number of official recommendations to help residents avoid mosquito bites. These include: 

  • Use repellent
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers when being outdoors and especially during ​​mosquitoes’ peak activity times, i.e. sunrise and sunset
  • Use mosquito nets on your windows or sleep in rooms with air-conditioning and keep the windows closed
  • Make sure there are no pools of stagnant water around your house

See more information about West Nile virus in Italy on the health ministry’s website.