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COVID-19 STATS

Four Italian regions risk becoming ‘orange’ zones as Covid cases hit record high

Italy marked a record of over 170,000 coronavirus cases in one day on Tuesday, pushing some regions closer to becoming a higher risk 'orange' zone.

A couple wearing protective masks walk past balloons in front of the Duomo of Milan on January 3, 2022. - The use of FP2 masks in transport, stadiums, movie theatres, museums and sporting events is now mandatory in Italy. Wearing a mask outdoor is already mandatory since December 23rd.
Some Italian regions are at risk of becoming 'orange' zones as cases hit record high. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Covid cases, admissions to hospital and ICU have increased in almost all Italian regions, with at least four now approaching the parameters to become a higher risk ‘orange’ zone – Liguria, Calabria, Marche and the autonomous province of Trento.

Never in Italy have so many positive cases been reported in a single day since the start of the pandemic, as Italian authorities recorded some 170,844 new Covid infections on Tuesday.

As cases soar, admissions to ordinary wards and intensive care units have risen too, increasing pressure on hospitals across the country.

Q&A: What are Italy’s new Covid quarantine rules?

In the last 24 hours, Italy saw 579 new admissions to ordinary wards and 41 to intensive care, while deaths reached 259 – a number not seen since last April, according to the latest health figures.

The figures come after a further four Italian regions left the ‘white’ zone, becoming a ‘yellow’ zone on Monday – a total of 11 Italian regions or autonomous provinces are currently moderate-risk ‘yellow’ zones.

From next Monday, four of these regions could face tighter restrictions and move into an ‘orange’ zone due to the mounting pressure on their hospitals.

To move from a yellow to an orange zone, a region must record a weekly incidence of infection rate of 150 or more per 100,000 inhabitants and to have simultaneously exceeded the occupancy limits for general and intensive care beds in the yellow zone. That means over 20 percent occupancy for ICU beds and 30 percent for general hospital admissions.

Liguria has already reached both of the risk thresholds set by the monitoring system: it has 21 percent of its beds occupied in intensive care and 31 percent in ordinary admissions, according to the latest data provided by Agenas, Italy’s National Agency for Health Services.

Calabria has exceeded the threshold of general admissions with 32 percent occupancy, while it is still at 15 percent in intensive care.

Meanwhile, Marche is above the threshold in intensive care at 21 percent but under for ordinary hospital admissions at 23 percent. Trento is close to exceeding the threshold with 20 percent intensive care occupancy while general wards are at 19 percent occupancy. “At this rate, unfortunately, I see the risk of the orange zone as inevitable for our region,” said the Marche’s governor Francesco Acquaroli in reference to the region’s numbers.

Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Should these regions move into an ‘orange’ zone, this would effectively mean a lockdown for the unvaccinated (or those who haven’t recovered from Covid). Without a ‘super green pass’, this group would be denied access to public transport and almost all closed places.

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.

Calendar: When do Italy’s Covid-19 rules change?

The health certificate is due to be a requirement at even more places from January 10th. This includes all restaurants and bars, all public transport, including local buses, hotels, ski lifts, indoor swimming pools, wellness centres, gyms and team sports facilities; spas, museums and exhibitions, theme parks, indoor recreational centres and bingo halls.

The restrictions would come in addition to the ‘orange’ zone rule of not being able to move from your municipality of residence unless it’s for reasons of work, necessity or urgency, although those with a basic or super green pass are exempt from this.

For some, therefore, it effectively means going backwards two years to the start of the pandemic.

Those who haven’t got immunised against Covid in an ‘orange’ zone would only be allowed to go to public offices and shops (except shopping centres on public holidays and pre-festive days such as the evening before), since activities and events would only be open for those vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19.

The rising figures over recent weeks overall have prompted the government to consider tightening restrictions further.

Authorities are due to meet on Wednesday to discuss extending the ‘super green pass’ requirement to all workplaces and to make changes to the Covid protocol in school, including new quarantine requirements and when distance learning would be activated.

See the latest news and updates from The Local on Italy’s current Covid-19 health measures and travel restrictions.

For further details about Italy’s current Covid-19 health measures please see the Italian Health Ministry’s website (available in English).

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COVID-19 RULES

Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

The health ministry is reviewing its quarantine requirements as the country's Covid-19 health situation improved again this week, according to Italian media reports.

Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

Italy has taken a more cautious approach to Covid in recent months than many of its European neighbours, keeping strict isolation rules in place for anyone who tests positive for the virus.

But this could be set to change in the coming days, according to media reports, as one of Italy’s deputy health ministers said the government is about to cut the isolation period for asymptomatic cases.

“Certainly in the next few days there will be a reduction in isolation for those who are positive but have no symptoms,” Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa said in a TV interview on the political talk show Agorà on Tuesday.

“We have to manage to live with the virus,” he said.

Italy’s La Stampa newspaper reported that the compulsory isolation period could be reduced to 48 hours for those who test positive but remain asymptomatic – provided they subsequently test negative after the day two mark.

Under Italy’s current rules, vaccinated people who test positive must stay in isolation for at least seven days, and unvaccinated people for ten days – regardless of whether or not they have any symptoms.

READ ALSO: How tourists and visitors can get a coronavirus test in Italy

At the end of the isolation period, the patient has to take another test to exit quarantine. Those who test negative are free to leave; those who remain positive must stay in isolation until they get a negative test result, up to a maximum of 21 days in total (at which point it doesn’t matter what the test result says).

Health ministry sources indicated the new rules would cut the maximum quarantine period to 15 or even 10 days for people who continue to test positive after the initial isolation period is up, La Stampa said.

The government is believed to be reviewing the rules as the latest official data showed Covid infection and hospitalisation rates were slowing again this week, as the current wave of contagions appeared to have peaked in mid-July.

However, the national Rt number (which shows the rate of transmission) remained above the epidemic threshold, and the number of fatalities continued to rise.

The proposed changes still aren’t lenient enough for some parties. Regional authorities have been pushing for an end to quarantine altogether, even for people who are actively positive – an idea Costa appears sympathetic to.

“The next step I think is to consider the idea of even eliminating the quarantine, perhaps by wearing a mask and therefore being able to go to work,” he told reporters.

“We must review the criteria for isolation, to avoid blocking the country again”.

At least one health expert, however, was unenthusiastic about the proposal.

Dr Nino Cartabellotta, head of Italy’s evidence-based medicine group Gimbe, tweeted on Tuesday: “There are currently no epidemiological or public health reasons to abolish the isolation of Covid-19 positives”

Massimo Andreoni, professor of Infectious Diseases at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the Tor Vergata University of Rome, was more ambivalent about the prospect.

The isolation requirement for asymptomatic cases should be “revised somewhat in the light of the epidemiological data”, he told reporters, but urged “a minimum of precaution, because the less the virus circulates and the fewer severe cases there are, the fewer new variants arise”.

When the question was last raised at the end of June, Health Minister Roberto Speranza was firmly against the idea of lifting quarantine requirements for people who were Covid positive.

“At the moment such a thing is not in question,” he told newspaper La Repubblica at the time. “Anyone who is infected must stay at home.”

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