Italy’s Sicily region placed back under ‘yellow zone’ restrictions as Covid hospitalisations rise

The Italian island region of Sicily will soon be placed under ‘yellow’ zone restrictions again, after the rate of coronavirus infections and hospitalisations soared in recent weeks.

Italy's Sicily region placed back under 'yellow zone' restrictions as Covid hospitalisations rise
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

“I have just signed a new ordinance that brings Sicily into the yellow zone,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza announced on social media early on Friday evening.

He said the move was “confirmation that the virus is not yet defeated and that the priority is to continue with the vaccination campaign and the prudent and correct behaviour of every one of us.”

The rule change is expected to take effect from Monday. However Speranza did not confirm when the new restrictions would come in, and no further details were immediately available on the health ministry’s website.

Having ‘yellow zone’ restrictions reimposed will, among other rules, mean a return to wearing a face mask in all public places, both indoors and outdoors, and the return of limits on restaurant opening hours and group sizes at tables.

Italy’s so-called ‘green pass’ will also become compulsory for teachers and on trains and planes across the country from September 1st.

However, further measures were considered necessary in Sicily, where vaccination rates are lower than the national average and where crowds have flocked for the summer season.

Sicily has exceeded all three thresholds for remaining in the low-restriction ‘white’ zone: coronavirus infection incidence rate, hospitalisations and intensive care occupancy.

There are also concerns about the health situation in the regions of Calabria and Sardinia, which are each over the limit for two out of the three parameters.

READ ALSO: How Italy plans to avoid tightening Covid restrictions this summer despite rising cases

While ten Italian regions were deemed to be ‘moderate risk’ by the latest report from the Italian health ministry on Friday, Sicily is the only Italian region at moderate risk but “with a high probability of progression”.

Sicily has been expected to lose the low-restriction ‘white’ zone classification since last week after the rate of infections and hospitalisations reached critical thresholds.

Some of Sicily’s smaller islands had last week placed new curbs on nightlife and day trips after illegal parties and crowding was blamed for a surge in new cases locally.

Every region has been ‘white’ for more than two months under Italy’s four-tiered system of restrictions.

As several regions risked a yellow zone classification in July due to sharply rising infection rates, the Italian government responded by changing the parameters of the zones, making it more difficult for a region to change from white to yellow.

Under the new parameters, a region becomes a yellow zone if the following thresholds are reached at the same time:

  • The incidence of weekly cases of infection per 100,000 inhabitants is between 50 and 150.
  • The occupancy rate of intensive care units exceeds 10 percent.
  • Occupancy reaches 15 percent in the case of general hospital wards.

Italy on Friday reported 7,826 new positive cases and 45 deaths.

For further details on the current coronavirus situation in Italy, see the Health Ministry’s website (in English).

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Italy lifts mask mandate for private sector workers

Masks will no longer be required in the workplace but Italian companies will have the right to impose restrictions for employees deemed "at risk".

Italy lifts mask mandate for private sector workers

Representatives from the Italian Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Health and all major national unions collectively signed off on Thursday a new “shared protocol” (protocollo condiviso) for the implementation of anti-Covid measures in private workplaces. 

Although the full text of the bill will only be made available to the public sometime next week, portions of the document have already been released to the media, thus disclosing the government’s next steps in the fight against the virus.

The most relevant update concerns face masks, which will no longer be mandatory in private workplaces. 

However, the text specifies, FFP2 face masks remain “an important protective item aimed at safeguarding workers’ health”. As such, employers will have the right to autonomously impose the use of face coverings on categories of workers considered “at risk”.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Notably, face coverings may remain mandatory for those working in “indoor settings shared by multiple employees” or even in “outdoor settings where social distancing may not be practicable”. Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions (soggetti fragili) may also be subject to such rules, which, it is worth reminding, are left to the employer’s discretion. 

Alongside mask-related restrictions, employers will also have the right to have their staff undergo temperature checks prior to entering the workplace. In such cases, anyone with a body temperature higher than 37.5C will be denied access to the workplace and will be asked to temporarily self-isolate pending further indications from their own doctor.

In line with previous measures, companies will be required to continue supplying sanitising products free of charge and regulate access to common areas (canteens, smoking areas, etc.) so as to avoid gatherings.

Additionally, employers will be advised to keep incentivising smart working (lavoro agile), as it has proved to be “a valuable tool to curb infection, especially for at-risk individuals”.

Provided that the country’s infection curve registers no significant changes, the updated protocol will remain in place until October 31st, when it will yet again be reviewed by the relevant governmental and social parties. 

With the latest round of measures, Italy has now scrapped all Covid-related health measures, except the requirement to wear face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings, and self-isolation provisions for those testing positive. 

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

Italy’s infection curve has been rising significantly since the beginning of June. From June 1st to June 14th, Covid’s R (spreading rate) rate rose back over 1 for the first time since April 8th. Also, from June 17th to June 23rd, the virus’s incidence rate was 504 cases every 100,000 residents, up by 62 per cent on the previous week.

According to Claudio Mastroianni, Professor of Infectious Diseases at Sapienza University of Rome, “with 25 per cent of daily Covid swabs coming back positive and a R rate over 1, the infection curve will likely rise at least until mid-July”.

However, albeit acknowledging the rising number of positive cases, Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa has so far categorically excluded the possibility of re-introducing lapsed Covid measures, saying that it’ll be a “restriction-free summer”.