Will Italy extend the Covid-19 state of emergency beyond July 31st?

A year and a half since it was first declared, Italy's state of emergency is up for review once again. What does it mean in practice and how much longer is it set to last?

Will Italy extend the Covid-19 state of emergency beyond July 31st?
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who has to decide whether to extend Italy's state of emergency. Photo: Alessandra Tarantino / POOL / AFP

Italy first declared a state of emergency on January 31st 2020, as the first known cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Rome but before the country had suffered any Covid-19 deaths.

Originally planned to last six months, the measure has been extended several times since then. It is currently due to expire on July 31st – and Italian politicians are divided over whether it should continue further.

What is Italy’s state of emergency?
The most important thing to know is that the stato di emergenza itself does not determine Italy’s emergency rules and restrictions: it’s not the same thing as an emergency decree, or DPCM (Decreto del Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri, legislation issued directly by the prime minister).
And while it sounds dramatic, the declaration of a state of emergency – previously reserved for natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes – has a specific purpose.

READ ALSO: Fast trains and extended building bonus: How Italy’s EU recovery plan could affect you

It gives greater powers to both the national government and to regional authorities, and it was declared in order to allow the prime minister to introduce, change, and revoke rules quickly in response to the ever-changing epidemiological situation.

The state of emergency effectively cuts through bureaucracy, as the introduction of sweeping measures such as making face masks mandatory nationwide would otherwise require a lengthy parliamentary process.

Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

It allows regional authorities to bring in their own local rules aimed at containing the spread of the virus, including declaring certain areas restricted “red zones” in case of outbreaks.

It also authorises the government to allocate emergency funds, and gives the Civil Protection Department special powers to take action designed to protect public health.

Under the current state of emergency, Italy’s previous and present governments have issued a series of decrees that served to revise rules depending on the current infection rate in Italy and in other countries.

Early into the pandemic the last government also used it to create a Covid-19 emergency commission and scientific advisory panel (the Comitato tecnico scientifico or CTS), both of which continue to decide important elements of Italy’s health policy to this day.

Will it be extended?

With Italy’s coronavirus infection rate at its lowest in months and around half the population at least partially vaccinated, some politicians are arguing that it’s time for Italy to drop its state of emergency.

Hard-right parties the League and Brothers of Italy, which have been critical of emergency measures including compulsory face masks, have called for the provision to expire at the end of July, in the interests of returning to normality. 

But others in the centre have urged the government not to let down its guard prematurely, especially with the spread of highly contagious variants. 

READ ALSO: Delta variant in Italy: What’s the risk of another Covid-19 surge?


“The government will deliberate extending the state of emergency with the help of experts and the CTS: the extension mustn’t be abused because these are special powers used only when strictly necessary, but the Delta variant should not be underestimated. That’s a mistake the government will not make,” Regional Affairs Minister Mariastella Gelmini, a member of centre-right Forza Italia, told public broadcaster Rai.

Current prime minister Mario Draghi has used fewer emergency powers than his predecessor, Giuseppe Conte, choosing to introduce longer-term reforms via decreto legge (legislative decree), which requires approval from parliament, rather than via emergency DPCMs signed by the premier alone. 

READ ALSO: How you could benefit from Italy’s Covid-19 financial support decree

But he and his health minister Roberto Speranza, who has served throughout the pandemic, have generally favoured a cautious approach, guided by the advice of scientific experts.

With the Delta variant in Italy, the vaccine roll-out still underway and international travel set to resume, the government is expected to extend the state of emergency beyond July, not least to keep the CTS advisory panel in place and allow the Covid-19 emergency commission to continue overseeing vaccinations.

How much longer could Italy’s state of emergency remain in place?

So far the state of emergency has been extended by between two and six months each time. 

“The discussion is still ongoing, but it makes sense to extend the state of emergency into autumn,” undersecretary for health Pierpaolo Sileri told the Tgcom24 news channel this week, by which point Italy aims to reach herd immunity through vaccination.


Italian law states that a national state of emergency cannot be declared for more than 12 months in one go, and can only be extended for a maximum of 12 months beyond that, making two years in total.

Extending the measure by another six months – to January 31st 2022 – would take Italy up to this final two-year limit.

The Italian press has speculated that Draghi may end the state of emergency sooner as a compromise, possibly choosing the symbolic date of December 31st 2021 to wrap up one of the longest-lasting features of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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ANALYSIS: Italy’s hard right set to clash with EU allies over Russia

Italian election winner Giorgia Meloni may at first glance have much in common with ultra-conservative governments in fellow EU nations Poland and Hungary, but experts say that when it comes to real-world policy any alliance could soon run into limits.

ANALYSIS: Italy's hard right set to clash with EU allies over Russia

Reaction to Sunday’s strong result for Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party was muted from pillars of EU integration like Paris and Berlin, but Warsaw and Budapest were warm in their congratulations.

“We’ve never had greater need of friends sharing a vision of and a common approach to Europe,” the Hungarian government said, while from Poland came praise for Meloni’s “great victory”.

“Hungary and Poland are more than happy with this election, first because it relieves the pressure on their own countries in the EU, and second because it paves the way for a more united front,” said Yordan Bozhilov, director of the Bulgaria-based Sofia Security Forum think-tank.

READ ALSO: Polish PM hails far-right’s ‘great victory’ in Italian elections

The Italian election follows hard on the heels of a Swedish poll that also produced a surge for the extreme right.

But with the far right in power in one of the EU’s largest countries and founding members, Hungary and Poland could be far less isolated in their battles with Brussels over rule-of-law issues.

What’s more, Rome, Budapest and Warsaw are now set for alignment on social concerns, with anti-Islam, anti-abortion and anti-LGBT positions.

“Together we will defeat the cynical and pampered Eurocrats who are destroying the European Union, breaching treaties, destroying our civilisation and advancing the LGBT agenda!” Poland’s deputy agriculture minister Janusz Kowalski tweeted in a message congratulating Meloni on Monday.

Meloni also shares her prospective allies’ vision of a Christian, white Europe made up of sovereign nations.

EXPLAINED: What’s behind election success for Italy’s far right?

“Hungary and Poland are countries that want to change the EU from within, and they don’t hide it. So far they haven’t succeeded, but there will definitely be an attempt to create a Rome-Budapest-Warsaw axis,” said Tara Varma, director of the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

But such parties’ demands have already moderated in recent years from full exit from the EU, “given the absolute cautionary tale that Brexit has been,” she added.

Instead, the axis could become “spoilers, the sand in the gears” in Brussels.

“One step forward, two steps back, they could prevent the EU making progress while continuing to benefit from joint funds,” Varma said.

– Splits over Russia –

 A front based on values could still founder when faced with today’s overriding concern of the war in Ukraine and EU relations with Russia.

While Meloni has so far matched Warsaw in declarations of support for Ukraine and for EU sanctions on Russia over its invasion of its neighbour, Hungary’s leader Viktor Orban – close to President Vladimir Putin – is

“At some point, Meloni will have to choose between Poland and Hungary,” Varma predicted.

The Brothers of Italy leader is not expected to bend her position to match those of her junior coalition partners, Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini, who are friendlier to Moscow.

READ ALSO: Italy’s Meloni begins tricky government talks after election win

“Regarding foreign policy, as far as we know Meloni backs the sanctions against Russia and Brothers of Italy is closer to Poland’s PiS (governing party) than Hungary’s Fidesz,” said Hungarian analyst Patrik Szicherle.

Meloni has “sent the right messages on Ukraine,” said Martin Quencez of the German Marshall Fund, pointing out Italy’s critical relationship with the US as a reliable NATO ally.

Once elected prime minister, she “has every incentive to have good relations with Brussels, not to enter a pitched battle,” said Paolo Modugno, professor of Italian civilisation at Paris’ Sciences Po university.

Meloni “is very aware of the Italian public’s problems, their fear of inflation and the economic situation. What’s urgent for her is to manage the crisis, not to take ideological risks,” he added.

Analysts suggest that the incoming government’s choice of top ministers, especially in the finance and foreign ministries, will clearly signal how Meloni plans to position herself in Europe.