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HEALTH

Covid-19: When do you still need to wear a mask in Italy?

From Monday June 28th, wearing face masks outdoors will no longer be compulsory in Italy. But that doesn't mean the end of masks altogether. Here's where you still need to wear them, even when you are outside.

Covid-19: When do you still need to wear a mask in Italy?
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In October last year, face masks were made a requirement in all public places – indoors and outdoors – across Italy in response to rising coronavirus infection rates.

The Italian rules state that masks must be worn at all times when out of the house, indoors and outdoors, “except in cases where, due to the characteristics of the place or the circumstances, isolation is continuously guaranteed.”

But on Monday the Italian health minister announced that mask-wearing will no longer be compulsory outdoors from next week, based on new advice from the government’s scientific advisory panel (CTS).

READ ALSO: What you need to know if you’re travelling to Italy in summer 2021

This still doesn’t mean you can just leave your mask at home, however.

Here’s a look at why you’ll still need to make sure you have a mask with you at all times in Italy.

Indoor spaces

Wearing masks in public indoor spaces, including shops, cinemas, theatres, cultural sites such as museums and galleries and offices remains compulsory for the moment – these rules remain unchanged under the new ordinance signed by the Italian health minister on Wednesday.

Busy outdoor spaces

Face masks will also remain compulsory in stadiums, queues, markets, and other busy outdoor places.

This also includes areas outside public buildings such as schools and churches during busy hours.

Social distancing rules also remain in place, meaning you’re still supposed to stay at least one metre away from anyone you don’t live with.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza told reporters on Wednesday morning that, under the new ordinance. “masks must be worn [outdoors] only when distance cannot be maintained.”

After reviewing the rules on Monday, the CTS stated that there were various situations where you would still have to wear a mask outdoors, saying “people should always carry a mask with them so that they can wear it whenever such conditions arise”.

The rules on wearing masks at bars and restaurants remain the same, even outdoors. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

At work

The CTS confirmed that all other existing rules on wearing masks would remain in place, stating: “the established protocols for the safe operation of economic and recreational activities must be respected”.

This means that staff working in public-facing roles, and anyone working with people who they do not live with, will need to continue wearing a mask at work.

Schools

The current rules on wearing masks at school will stay the same, meaning pupils from primary age upwards will still need a mask in class.

Bars and restaurants

As before, all customers at restaurants, cafés and bars must wear a mask at all times when moving around (such as when paying the bill or going to the toilet), both inside and in outdoor seating areas.

Masks can be taken off once you’re sitting at a table, but should be kept on when ordering and paying.

Public transport

Face masks were made compulsory on public transport early in the pandemic in spring 2020 and the CTS confirmed that this rule is set to stay in place for the foreseeable future.

Police may still ask people to wear masks in crowded outdoor areas, including at popular tourist sites. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Yellow zones

The CTS said it considered it safe to remove the mask-wearing requirement outdoors in areas classed as low-risk ‘white’ zones only

All of Italy is expected to be ‘white’ by the time the rule change comes in on Monday June 28th, but if the risk classification later changes and any part of the country is put back into the yellow, orange or red zone, the outdoor mask-wearing rules will apply once more.

For ill or at-risk people

The CTS said anyone who has symptoms or suspects they may have Covid-19 should wear a mask in public, while it is “strongly recommended” for vulnerable people, such as those who are immunosuppressed, to continue wearing masks in public.

Are there any exemptions if you’re fully vaccinated?

At the moment, there are no exceptions to Italy’s health measures for those who have been vaccinated, and this includes when it comes to masks.

Italian media reports that the CTS is looking at possible rule changes including allowing people to remove their masks indoors if everyone present is vaccinated, but no such changes have yet been confirmed by the government.

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Italy’s deputy health minister under fire after casting doubt on Covid vaccines

Opposition leaders called for health undersecretary Marcello Gemmato to resign on Tuesday after the official said he was not "for or against" vaccines.

Italy's deputy health minister under fire after casting doubt on Covid vaccines

Gemmato, a pharmacist and member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party, made the remark during an appearance on the political talkshow ReStart on Rai 2 on Monday evening.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

In a widely-shared clip, the official criticises the previous government’s approach to the Covid pandemic, claiming that for a large part of the crisis Italy had the highest death rate and third highest ‘lethality’ rate (the proportion of Covid patients who died of the disease).

When journalist Aldo Cazzullo interjects to ask whether the toll would have been higher without vaccines, Gemmato responds: “that’s what you say,” and claimed: “We do not have the reverse burden of proof.”

The undersecretary goes on to say that he won’t “fall into the trap of taking a side for or against vaccines”.

After Gemmato’s comments, the president of Italy’s National Federation of Medical Guilds, Filippo Anelli, stressed that official figures showed the Italian vaccination campaign had already prevented some 150,000 deaths, slashing the country’s potential death toll by almost half.

Vaccines also prevented eight million cases of Covid-19, over 500,000 hospitalisations, and more than 55,000 admissions to intensive care, according to a report from Italy’s national health institute (ISS) in April 2021.

Gemmato’s comments provoked calls for him to step down, including from the head of the centre-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta.

“A health undersecretary who doesn’t take his distance from no-vaxxers is certainly in the wrong job” wrote the leader of the centrist party Action, Carlo Calenda, on Twitter.

Infectious disease expert Matteo Bassetti of Genoa’s San Martino clinic also expressed shock.

“How is it possible to say that there is no scientific proof that vaccines have helped save the lives of millions of people? You just have to read the scientific literature,” Bassetti tweeted. 

In response to the backlash, Gemmato on Tuesday put out a statement saying he believes “vaccines are precious weapons against Covid” and claiming that his words were taken out of context and misused against him.

The Brothers of Italy party was harshly critical of the previous government’s approach to handling the Covid crisis, accusing the former government of using the pandemic as an excuse to “limit freedom” through its use of the ‘green pass’, a proof of vaccination required to access public spaces. 

But since coming into power, Meloni appears to have significantly softened her stance.

Her appointee for health minister, Orazio Schillaci, is a medical doctor who formed part of the team advising the Draghi administration on its handling of the pandemic.

Schillaci, a former dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at Rome’s Tor Vergata University, has described the former government’s green pass scheme as an “indispensable tool for guaranteeing safety in university classrooms”.

Speaking at a session of the G20 on Tuesday, Meloni referenced the role of vaccines in bringing an end to the Covid pandemic.

“Thanks to the extraordinary work of health personnel, vaccines, prevention, and the accountability of citizens, life has gradually returned to normal,’ the prime minister said in a speech.

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