Sardinia and Sicily reopen as Italy’s Covid contagion rate continues to fall

As a result of the improving contagion data, Italy's health ministry has classed all but one region as a lower-risk ‘yellow’ zone from Monday.

Sardinia and Sicily reopen as Italy's Covid contagion rate continues to fall
People waiting to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in Sicily on Friday. Photo: GIANLUCA CHININEA/AFP

Sicily and Sardinia join the rest of Italy in lifting many of the coronavirus restrictions, as the two island regions will be moved from the moderate-risk ‘orange’ to the yellow zone under the latest update to the nation’s tiered system of restrictions, regional governors confirmed on Friday.

MAP: Where in Italy are coronavirus cases falling fastest?

Only the northern Valle d’Aosta region will remain in the orange zone for at least one more week.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza will reportedly sign the latest ordinance on Friday evening, bringing the changes into effect from Monday May 17th.

All other regions and autonomous provinces are already under yellow zone restrictions, meaning lighter restrictions are in place in almost all of Italy.

In yellow zones, museums and cinemas are able to reopen and restaurants can welcome diners for outdoor table service. Restrictions on travel to and from the region are dropped.

Many parts of Italy, including Rome’s Lazio region, have been under relaxed ‘yellow’ zone restrictions since April 26th. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Italy’s coronavirus Rt rate, which shows the speed of transmission, has fallen slightly to 0.86, down from 0.89 last week, according to the latest weekly coronavirus monitoring report from Italy’s health ministry and the Higher Health Institute (ISS).

The average incidence rate nationwide has fallen to 96 known positive cases for every 100,00 inhabitants, compared to 123 cases in last week’s report.

However the figure varies significantly around the country.

Three regions have now dropped below the critical threshold of 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, which means tracking and tracing will be able to resume, said the head of Italy’s Higher Health Institute Silvio Brusaferro at a press conference on Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile the proportion of intensive care beds occupied by Covid-19 patients is now below the threshold of 30% in all but three regions.

ANALYSIS: Will Italy really be able to lift most of its Covid-19 restrictions in June?

As Italy’s coronavirus numbers continue to gradually improve, it’s hoped that some regions could soon be declared low-risk, low-restriction ‘white’ zones in the coming weeks.

No region yet has the numbers to be designated a ‘white’ zone.

There are strict criteria for being declared white zone, in which most restrictions are relaxed, including the 10pm curfew, with only face masks and social distancing still in place.

Sardinia is the only region to have enjoyed a spell as a white zone, in February – though a few weeks later the island turned ‘red’ again after seeing a sharp increase in new infections.

The Italian government has insisted that its plan for reopening the country to tourism is gradual enough to prevent a new spike in infections. 

However, if cases do rise sharply after restrictions are lifted, regions or towns could once again be placed under red or orange zone restrictions at short notice.


“We need to be cautious and gradual in managing the pandemic. Particular attention is paid to the variants that continue to emerge,” said Brusaferro.

“Reducing the number of new cases is important; we must maintain mitigation measures and continue the vaccination campaign,” he said.

Italy’s vaccination campaign has been speeding up in recent weeks after months of setbacks and delays.

The seven-day average daily number of vaccinations given in the country is now around 460,000, up from almost 444,000 the week before, the latest figures show.

Italy’s emergency commissioner Francesco Figliuolo this week instructed regions to offer vaccinations to the over-40s on Wednesday – just a week after saying they could open appointments to the over-50s.

However, the percentage of over-60s not yet vaccinated is still so high that the campaign is lagging overall – and made worse by unknown numbers of people refusing vaccinations, particularly the AstraZeneca shot.

The health ministry said just over eight million people in Italy – 13.6% of the population – are fully vaccinated as of Friday, meaning they have had two doses of a vaccine or a shot of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose jab.

Almost 26 million shots have been administered in total so far, the latest official figures show..

For more information on Covid-19 restrictions currently in place in Italy, please see the Italian Health Ministry’s website (in English).

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Public vs private: What are your healthcare options in Italy?

A doctor’s visit in Italy can mean a long wait - unless you pay to skip the queue. The Local weighs up the pros and cons of using Italy's public and private healthcare options.

Public vs private: What are your healthcare options in Italy?

Italy is well-known for having one of the best healthcare systems in Europe: skilled physicians, advanced technology, and quality facilities available free of charge to every citizen.

But is that actually the case? In reality, across the country, access to quality healthcare varies widely — and since the 1990s, Italy’s world-famous public system has gradually given ground to a growing number of private providers who offer top-notch services at a top-shelf cost.

That means, when you need health services the most, navigating Italy’s system can be a complicated and potentially costly affair.

Here’s what you need to know about Italy’s public and private systems before a health crisis hits.

Your rights to care

The right to public healthcare is enshrined in Italy’s constitution, which recognizes “health as a fundamental right of the individual and the interest of the community.”

Since 1978, when Italy’s national health service (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale, or SSN) was first established, it has provided free, public health services based on the principles of universality, equality, and fairness.

In practice, this all means that all Italian citizens and most legal Italian residents have a right to access public healthcare free of charge, most of the time.

If you are resident in Italy for reasons of work, family reunification, asylum, or medical care, it is mandatory that you are registered with the public health insurance system. This means applying for your tessera sanitaria or health card after your residency paperwork is complete.

See our guide to who can register for national healthcare, plus more information about applying for (and renewing) your tessera sanitaria here.

If you are resident in Italy for other reasons — for example, to study at a university — you can still opt to enroll, for an annual fee.

Italy also recognizes health insurance provided by any EU country without a tessera sanitaria — you can show your European health card (EHIC). You are required to swap it for an Italian card if you’re in the country for more than six months.

Italy has also made international agreements with a handful of countries to recognize their state insurance as well — these include Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Monaco, and Tunisia. Talk to your local Italian embassy if you’re from one of these countries to get the documentation you need.

The public system

But, in reality, what does your tessera sanitaria get you?

First and foremost, it covers all emergency care. If you need an ambulance ride or a stop by the pronto soccorso (emergency room), this will be provided free of charge.

You will also be assigned a general practice doctor from a list in your region, who will be your first point of contact for any non-emergency care. Many of these doctors are also specialists in a particular field of health, though not all will be comfortable working in English.

READ ALSO: How to make a doctor’s appointment in Italy

In practice, though, these physicians are often massively oversubscribed, counting thousands of patients under their care. Wait times for an appointment can often be lengthy, if you can even get through to their booking line. If you don’t like your doctor, you can only change them once per year, by applying again to your local health authority.

Man entering a hospital in Italy

Italy’s healthcare system is said to be among the best in the world, but stark regional imbalances persist. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

If you require any non-emergency care — blood tests, a specialist exam, or certain prescriptions — you will need to receive a referral from this doctor. This takes the form of a paper ricevuta, a card specifying the services you need with a barcode that will be scanned by the specialist in question.

You won’t have a choice in what specialist you are referred to, and you will likely face a lengthy wait for these services, which are often performed at the local hospital.

Not all of these services will be completely free. Even with a health card, you will be required to make copayments for some specialist visits and exams.


For example, if your doctor orders full blood work — a procedure that involves more than a dozen different laboratory tests — you may pay as much as €100 in copayments or more, as the public system will only cover up to eight tests at any one time.

You will also need to make nominal copayments on certain prescription drugs. In theory, these fees are subject to certain maximums and should be geared to your household income. Dental care is free for children under 16, but only emergencies are covered for everyone else.

It’s important to know that, because Italy’s health system is managed by regional authorities, access to care varies greatly across the country. A 2015 report by the OECD found “profound regional differences” indicating many in the south of the country were not receiving timely access to preventative medicine.

Today, while many cities in northern Italy are known for their world-beating medical facilities, they are also often plagued by long wait times, partly because southern residents frequently travel north for care.

The private option

These concerns have given rise to an expanding market for private healthcare in Italy, which offers the chance to skip the line — at a cost.

Private providers can offer specialist services without a referral from your general practitioner, and often have much shorter wait times: a week or two, as opposed to several months.

Though they are discouraged from doing so, you may find your general practitioner advising you to seek out private care to avoid a long wait. This is particularly true for services like ultrasounds, for which there is a long delay.

See our complete guide to healthcare options during pregnancy in Italy.

It’s worth noting that these private practices do not necessarily offer better facilities than their public competitors. Some operate out of the same hospital facilities as their public counterparts.

The Policlinico A. Gemelli Hospital in Rome. Italy’s capital is home to several highly-rated hospitals and clinics, but some residents still travel north in search of better or faster treatment. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

Their services can also be very costly. A single appointment can cost anywhere from €60 to €150 or more, and any follow-up exams or prescriptions will not be covered by the public system.

Though most Italians still pay these costs out-of-pocket, there are a number of private health insurance plans that can help spare you the financial headache.

At their most basic, these policies, known as polizze salute, cover emergency care and little else. Policies like these are sometimes a requirement for residency applications, and usually cost just a few hundred euro per year.

If you’re looking to supplement public health care with access to private specialists, however, expect to pay €100 per month or more. For this, you can expect perks like private rooms during hospital stays or cover for home care after discharge.

READ ALSO: ‘How I ended up in hospital in Italy – without health insurance’

To apply, you’ll need to undergo a medical checkup and declare any previous conditions. These policies are usually subject to age limits and some common chronic conditions, like diabetes, may be uninsurable.

Unlike American policies, insurers usually require that you pay up front, and will reimburse you only when you provide the proper paperwork. In some regions, where accredited private hospitals provide private care, your company may have a relationship that allows for direct billing.

Ultimately, the decision to go with private care comes down to a cost-benefit analysis: how long are you willing to wait — and how much would you pay to skip the queue?

If you would like to share your own experiences of using Italy’s public or private healthcare services, please leave a comment below or get in touch by email.