Covid-19: Italian schools set to keep using masks and distancing from September

Italian health experts have recommended that the coronavirus measures in place at the start of the next school year should be kept the same as last year, amid concerns about a possible new wave of infections fuelled by the Delta variant.

Covid-19: Italian schools set to keep using masks and distancing from September
Pupils arriving for the start of the previous school year in September 2020. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Italy’s school pupils and staff are now on their summer break. But when class restarts in September, the health measures aimed at controlling the spread of coronavirus look likely to remain unchanged on a year previously.

Though the Italian education ministry has not yet announced any updates to the rules, the government’s advisory panel of scientific experts, the CTS, said “the measures to be applied for the beginning of the school year 2021-2022 should be the same as those foreseen at the beginning of the previous school year”, Rai reports.

EXPLAINED: When do you still need to wear a mask in Italy?

This would mean masks for everyone aged over six, single desks and distanced seating, staggered entrance and exit times, and quarantine rules for classes with positive cases, as well as the possibility of some classes still being taught online, depending on the health situation in each local area and the rules provided under Italy’s tiered system of restrictions.

The expert panel noted that vaccinations will likely lead to a reduction in the spread of the virus. However, while 73% of school staff have now had at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, experts said it was “currently not possible to predict” how many pupils will have been vaccinated by September. 

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Italy is currently allowing all local health authorities to offer vaccines to everyone aged over 12, though some regions have said they don’t have the resources to vaccinate these younger age groups immediately.

The CTS recommended to the education ministry that prevention and control measures be kept in place as the reopening of schools will coincide with a “critical period” in the pandemic.

Despite the progress made with vaccinations, it said, the impact of new variants on infection rates, the consequences of summer reopenings and travel, and the return of millions of students and teachers to indoor classrooms “could create the conditions” for a new wave of infections at the beginning of autumn, experts said.

READ ALSO: Italy passes 50 million vaccinations milestone

“It is clear that the Delta variant will become prevalent and, probably, between now and September we will see a rise in infections,“ said Agostino Miozzo, a consultant to the education ministry on the management of the pandemic during the last school year, in an interview with Rai .

“Let us not be under any illusions: it will be another year of living in an emergency, the schools open soon and there will be no miracles,” he said.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

“Obviously it will not be like last year. We will not see peaks in intensive care admissions or hundreds of deaths a day,” Miozzo said, “but we will still be in an unstable situation, with outbreaks developing”.

He pointed out that “in Italy we have more than 2.5 million over-60s still awaiting vaccination, which is a very serious vulnerability in the face of the arrival of the Delta variant,” he said, adding that many people in the higher-risk older age group may work in education.

Miozzo also predicted that vaccinations could eventually become compulsory for school staff, as is already the case for healthcare workers in Italy.

“I believe that, at this stage, we need a strong moral persuasion towards vaccination, but we must look at obligatory vaccination for those in contact with students,” he said. “So if you have the chance to get vaccinated and you refuse, you can’t go to class.”

He said it was too early to think about requiring compulsory vaccines for students, but stressed that “we need to guarantee all students the opportunity to get vaccinated, from the oldest to the youngest”.

“Of course. we must work hard on communication to reassure parents about the safety of vaccines and the usefulness of protection,” he said.

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Italy opens Covid booster jab bookings from Monday

Regional health services in Italy will open bookings for Covid-19 booster shots to priority groups from Monday as the first deliveries of updated vaccines arrived in the country.

Italy opens Covid booster jab bookings from Monday

“From Monday, September 12th, bookings for the new dual-strain vaccines can begin at the regional level,” said director general of the Italian Medicines Agency (Aifa), Nicola Magrini, at a health ministry press conference on Friday.

Booster shots will not be mandatory and will be offered to priority groups first, health authorities confirmed.

READ ALSO: Italy gives green light to new dual-strain Covid vaccines

“The arrival of the new vaccines should strengthen the conviction of those who have to take the fourth dose because of their age or because they have other conditions,” Magrini said. 

Aifa on Monday approved the Comirnaty (Pfizer) and Spikevax (Moderna) dual-strain vaccines, which are effective against both the original strain and the more recent Omicron variants.

Italy will receive 19 million doses of the new vaccines in September, said Franco Locatelli, president of Italy’s Higher Health Council (ISS), at the press conference. 

The updated vaccines have been shown to “generate an antibody response against the Omicron Ba4 and 5 variants, which are the prevalent ones,” he said.

They represent “96 percent of all strains isolated in Italy so far”, he said.

Italian healthcare workers preparing doses of Covid vaccine.

The new dual-strain vaccines will be offered first to at-risk patients, including people aged over 60 and care home residents. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

Covid vaccines “have been a triumph of science and medicine” and “have saved millions of lives”, Locatelli added.

Booster jabs are currently recommended for those in higher-risk categories as Italy begins its autumn vaccination campaign.

Priority will be given to those who are still waiting to receive a second booster dose (the so-called fourth dose); therefore over-60s and people with health conditions that make them more susceptible to developing more severe forms of the Covid-19 disease, according to the latest memo from the health ministry.

READ ALSO: What is Italy’s Covid vaccination plan this autumn?

Magrini said the priority list also includes “health workers, pregnant women, and residents of facilities for the elderly”.

But “it can also be administered to those under 60 who ask for it,” he added.

Booster shots can only be administered to those who received their last dose at least 120 days (about four months) earlier.

The vaccination campaign is expected to be expanded to all over-12s who have only completed the initial vaccination cycle. For this category, the new booster shot would be their third dose.

How do you book a booster shot?

As in previous vaccination campaigns, each regional health authority will manage their own local vaccination programmes, including their timing.

Bookings should work in much the same way as before, with patients being able to book their appointments through GPs, pharmacies or their ASL’s website where available.

Shots can be administered by family doctors as well as at designated vaccination hubs in more densely populated areas.

The autonomous province of Trentino said it will begin administering jabs immediately from Monday and will allow residents to begin booking jabs from Saturday, September 10th.

Other regions and autonomous provinces are expected to announce their plans in the coming days.

For further information on availability and reservation in your region, see the official vaccination booking website.