The regions of Lombardy (around Milan), Lazio (around Rome) Piedmont, and Sicily will return to being moderate-risk ‘yellow’ zones on Monday, the Italian health ministry announced on Friday amid another record surge in Omicron cases.
They join Liguria, Marche, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Calabria, Trento and Bolzano, bringing the total number of yellow Italian regions and autonomous provinces to 11 (out of 21).
The rest of Italy remains in the lowest-risk ‘white’ zone, with the most relaxed rules, which become progressively more restrictive under the four-tiered system of yellow, orange (higher risk) and red (highest risk) zones.
Calendar: When do Italy’s Covid-19 rules change?
Areas are classified ‘yellow’ if they hit the threshold of a weekly Covid incidence rate of 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, plus 10 percent of intensive care occupied by Covid patients and 15 per cent in general hospitalisations.
Previously, the change in classification meant further restrictions would automatically be imposed on people in the affected region.
However recent changes to nationwide rules and a strengthening of the ‘green pass’ health certificate system means that effectively no rules appear to change if a region is moved from the white zone to yellow.
Masks must already be worn in all outdoor as well as indoor public places across the country under rules brought in from December 25th, and a previous limit on table sizes at restaurants no longer applies.
But the change does mean these regions are closer to being moved into the higher-risk ‘orange’ zone, which triggers additional restrictions – mainly on those who are not vaccinated – under Italy’s ‘super green pass’ or vaccine passport scheme.
No regions are currently classified as orange. The north-western coastal region of Liguria is thought to be closest to reaching the threshold as its intensive care occupancy rate at 22 percent, exceeding the 20 percent threshold, and general hospitalisations just two points from the 30 percent limit.
The Italian health ministry announced the four additional ‘yellow’ zones on Friday, December 31st, as the country saw another new daily record of 144,243 confirmed coronavirus infections within the previous 24 hours.
Italy has recently been announcing new record numbers of cases and steep increases almost every day, with 126,888 on Thursday.
Health authorities also reported a sharp jump in the test positivity rate on Friday, from 22 percent from 13 on Thursday.
The test positivity rate remained at around 21 percent over the New Year weekend, despite the lower number of tests carried out on Saturday and Sunday, meaning lower daily case numbers as usual on weekends.
The rise in the number of people hospitalised is steadier than in previous waves of coronavirus contagion.
However, health services are reportedly under increasing strain with some regions now seeing more than 20 percent of intensive care beds occupied by Covid patients.
The Italian government is reportedly set to meet again on Wednesday to discuss further changes to the country’s health restrictions, after already announcing two new decrees in as many weeks.
The government on Wednesday announced more stringent restrictions on the unvaccinated, effectively barring them from hotels, gyms, restaurants and even public transport under tighter rules coming in from January 10th.
Italy’s ‘reinforced’ or ‘super’ green pass – which shows proof of vaccination status or recovery from Covid-19 – is already required to access many places previously accessible to the unvaccinated via a negative Covid test, but restrictions are expected to be tightened further.
The Italian government is this week reportedly considering implementing a long-discussed vaccine mandate for all employees, with unions and some parties within the coalition government pushing for the obligation to instead apply to all over-18s.
Italian media also speculates that the government may reconsider its decision not to postpone the return to school, which begins in some regions on January 7th – or will at least bring in new health measures for classes ahead of that date.
“Even if there is no postponement, some changes proposed by the regional authorities are being considered, such as ten days of DAD [distance learning] for classes which report two or more infections – only for unvaccinated children,” writes news agency Ansa.
“This hypothesis has raised some political discontent, in particular from the League and the Five Star Movement, but the government makes it clear that it will do everything it can to prevent the closure of schools.”
For further details about Italy’s current Covid-19 health measures please see the Italian Health Ministry’s website (available in English).