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COVID-19 VACCINES

PM Mario Draghi hits out at the unvaccinated for Italy’s Covid problems

Prime Minister Mario Draghi urged Italians Monday to get vaccinated against coronavirus, blaming those who were not for "most of the problems we facing", as Italy again tightened its Covid-19 rules.

A medical worker fills a syringe with a dose of a Comirnaty Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine at a new vaccination hub in Italy.
Italy's prime minister Mario Draghi has laid the blame for the latest rise in Covid infections at the feet of the unvaccinated. Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

New restrictions came into force Monday barring the unvaccinated from restaurants, gyms, swimming pools, theatres, cinemas, sports events and public transport, with only those recently recovered from Covid-19 exempt.

The measures were introduced in the face of a sharp rise in infections in Italy, the first European country hit by coronavirus in early 2020, which has since recorded almost 140,000 Covid-19 deaths.

EXPLAINED: Where you need Italy’s Covid vaccine pass from Monday

At a press conference, Draghi emphasised that despite the rising cases – another 100,000 were reported on Monday – the situation was different from last winter when the vaccination campaign had yet to begin and lockdowns were required to stop hospitals becoming overwhelmed.

“Most of the problems we are facing today depend on the fact that there are unvaccinated people,” he said.

“Unvaccinated people have a much higher chance of developing the disease and severe forms of the disease,” he said, saying they were putting hospitals under pressure – and urging “all the Italians who are not yet vaccinated to do so”.

More than 86 percent of people over the age of 12 in Italy are fully vaccinated, while 23 million of the 60-million-strong population have had a booster jab.

Vaccines are also open to children aged five and over.

The government is also making vaccines obligatory for the over 50s from next month. The new rules dictate that everyone currently aged 50 and over in Italy, as well as anyone due to turn 50 by June 15, 2022, is now required to get a Covid vaccine.

The majority of schools opened Monday for a new term despite calls from headteachers, the doctors’ union and some mayors to delay the return to class for at least two weeks.

READ ALSO: Back to school: What are Italy’s new Covid restrictions in classrooms?

Hundreds of councils across the country kept their schools closed, according to media reports, but Draghi repeated that keeping children in class was a priority.

“We want to be careful, very careful, but also try to minimise the economic and social effects and above all the effects on boys and girls who have been affected more than others by the closures, from a psychological and educational point of view,” he said.

Top virologist Massimo Galli at the Sacco de Milan hospital earlier warned opening schools was “imprudent and unjustified”, while public health expert Walter Ricciardi described the situation as “explosive”.

The high number of cases is also having an economic effect – Trenitalia said Monday it had cancelled 180 regional trains due to staff shortages.

The so-called Super Green Pass showing proof of vaccination or recent recovery is required in almost all public places and on public transport until March 31st, while FFP2 masks are mandatory in many places.

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

Unvaccinated residents on Italy’s small islands, which had warned they risked being cast into “forced exile” by the new rules, have been permitted to travel with a negative Covid test until February 10th for health or educational reasons.

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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