Coronavirus: Italy set to relax evening curfew from next week as health data improves

The Italian government on Monday is debating which coronavirus containment measures to relax next as the country's health data continues to show improvement.

Coronavirus: Italy set to relax evening curfew from next week as health data improves
There have been increasing calls for the evening curfew to be scrapped since Italy's bars and restaurants reopened for outdoor service in April. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

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Italy’s prime minister has proposed pushing the nationwide evening curfew back to 11pm from next week and then to midnight from June 7th, before scrapping it altogether by June 21st.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi made the recommendation as Italian health experts and government ministers met on Monday afternoon to discuss which of the current coronavirus restrictions to soften next, and by how much, after further improvements to the health data.

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

Proposals from the meeting will go to the Council of Ministers on Monday evening for approval.

The nightly 10pm curfew, aimed at limiting socialising which could further spread the virus, is one of Italy’s most hotly contested containment measures – especially now that restaurants have been allowed to open for dinner.

Ministers and political parties have been debating for weeks whether the curfew should be pushed back to 11pm or midnight or scrapped completely.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI/AFP

Other updates to the rules expected to come from the meeting on Monday include possible new dates for the reopening of gyms and indoor swimming pools.

The government is also thought to be looking at guidelines allowing wedding receptions to go ahead this summer.

While Draghi has advised couples planning their big day to “be patient”, there is speculation that receptions will be allowed from mid-June, depending on local health data.

Guests will have to sit outdoors, maintain social distance and wear face masks, according to safety guidelines already agreed upon with regional authorities.

READ ALSO: ‘We’re exhausted’: What it’s like planning a wedding in Italy during the pandemic

Rule changes would likely come into force next week, with Italian media reports stating that they’d take effect from Monday, May 24th.

A decree providing for further loosening of the rules should be confirmed by Friday May 21st, the day Italy’s health watchdog releases its next weekly report.

The government wants to wait until it has more information on the effects of the first round of reopenings, which began in some parts of Italy on April 26th.

Data from that period won’t be available until the next health monitoring report on Friday, according to the president of the Higher Health Institute Franco Locatelli.

Italy on Sunday registered fewer than 6,000 new cases while the number of deaths in a day was under the 100 mark for the first time since October.

While the reported numbers are always lower on Sundays and Mondays, this continues the steady downward trend of recent months.

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Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

The health ministry is reviewing its quarantine requirements as the country's Covid-19 health situation improved again this week, according to Italian media reports.

Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

Italy has taken a more cautious approach to Covid in recent months than many of its European neighbours, keeping strict isolation rules in place for anyone who tests positive for the virus.

But this could be set to change in the coming days, according to media reports, as one of Italy’s deputy health ministers said the government is about to cut the isolation period for asymptomatic cases.

“Certainly in the next few days there will be a reduction in isolation for those who are positive but have no symptoms,” Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa said in a TV interview on the political talk show Agorà on Tuesday.

“We have to manage to live with the virus,” he said.

Italy’s La Stampa newspaper reported that the compulsory isolation period could be reduced to 48 hours for those who test positive but remain asymptomatic – provided they subsequently test negative after the day two mark.

Under Italy’s current rules, vaccinated people who test positive must stay in isolation for at least seven days, and unvaccinated people for ten days – regardless of whether or not they have any symptoms.

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

At the end of the isolation period, the patient has to take another test to exit quarantine. Those who test negative are free to leave; those who remain positive must stay in isolation until they get a negative test result, up to a maximum of 21 days in total (at which point it doesn’t matter what the test result says).

Health ministry sources indicated the new rules would cut the maximum quarantine period to 15 or even 10 days for people who continue to test positive after the initial isolation period is up, La Stampa said.

The government is believed to be reviewing the rules as the latest official data showed Covid infection and hospitalisation rates were slowing again this week, as the current wave of contagions appeared to have peaked in mid-July.

However, the national Rt number (which shows the rate of transmission) remained above the epidemic threshold, and the number of fatalities continued to rise.

The proposed changes still aren’t lenient enough for some parties. Regional authorities have been pushing for an end to quarantine altogether, even for people who are actively positive – an idea Costa appears sympathetic to.

“The next step I think is to consider the idea of even eliminating the quarantine, perhaps by wearing a mask and therefore being able to go to work,” he told reporters.

“We must review the criteria for isolation, to avoid blocking the country again”.

At least one health expert, however, was unenthusiastic about the proposal.

Dr Nino Cartabellotta, head of Italy’s evidence-based medicine group Gimbe, tweeted on Tuesday: “There are currently no epidemiological or public health reasons to abolish the isolation of Covid-19 positives”

Massimo Andreoni, professor of Infectious Diseases at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the Tor Vergata University of Rome, was more ambivalent about the prospect.

The isolation requirement for asymptomatic cases should be “revised somewhat in the light of the epidemiological data”, he told reporters, but urged “a minimum of precaution, because the less the virus circulates and the fewer severe cases there are, the fewer new variants arise”.

When the question was last raised at the end of June, Health Minister Roberto Speranza was firmly against the idea of lifting quarantine requirements for people who were Covid positive.

“At the moment such a thing is not in question,” he told newspaper La Repubblica at the time. “Anyone who is infected must stay at home.”