Four Italian regions may become Covid ‘orange’ zones from Monday

As the Covid health situation continues to worsen in Italy and as pressure on hospitals grows, four Italian regions look likely to move into the higher-risk 'orange' zone from next week.

Some Italian regions face becoming 'orange' zones from Monday.
Some regions have already exceeded the threshold for becoming an 'orange' zone. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

Italy set a new record on Tuesday with 220,532 new Covid infections in the last 24 hours, according to data from the health ministry.

Some regions are faring worse than others – the figures for Piedmont, Calabria, Liguria and Sicily show an increasing amount of Covid hospital admissions, both in general occupancy and in intensive care.

Based on these parameters, the first two of these regions have already exceeded the threshold for entering an ‘orange’ zone.

To be moved into this higher restricted tier, a region or autonomous province must record a Covid incidence rate of 150 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, combined with 20 percent ICU and 30 percent general ward Covid patient occupancy.

In Piedmont, the latest data has recorded 24 percent ICU occupancy and 33 percent for general admissions, according to figures from Agenas, Italy’s National Agency for Health Services. The incidence rate in this region has also already far exceeded the threshold for this week at 635.75.

MAP: The Italian regions becoming Covid ‘orange’ zones in January

Meanwhile in Calabria, ICU occupancy has now met the threshold at 20 percent and its ordinary admissions have surpassed it at 38 percent. Its incidence rate has also exceeded the maximum limit to stay in a lower risk ‘yellow’ zone at 204.50.

Liguria and Sicily, on the other hand, are looking very close to outstripping the parameters in time for the national data review on Friday. Italy’s health ministry examines the latest figures each week and decides which restrictions should be applied to a region or autonomous province from the following Monday.

Liguria hangs in the balance with 38 percent rate of hospitalisation in ordinary wards, but intensive care has been stable for several days at 20 percent. In theory, it has met the criteria to move into an ‘orange’ zone, but there are still a couple of more days to gauge whether its ICU occupancy fluctuates. Its incidence rate has already far surpassed the threshold at 755.42.

Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

The numbers are constantly growing in Sicily and this region could also face tighter health measures from Monday. As of Wednesday, its ICU occupancy is 20 percent, while general admissions are 32 percent. Its incidence rate is 435.15.

For these regions, it looks likely that they’ll lose their ‘yellow’ zone status – but it’s not a given.

The government has discretionary powers to move a region into a new zone even if the thresholds aren’t exceeded. Likewise, an area could remain in a lower restricted zone when they have – the figures serve as a guide for the health authorities.

Other regions are at risk of moving into an ‘orange’ zone in the coming weeks, based on their health data.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Marche, the autonomous province of Trento and Valle d’Aosta have all shown increasing numbers admitted to their hospitals, in both ICU and general occupancy this week.

If an area becomes an ‘orange’ zone, vaccinated people won’t experience much of a change, as most venues and activities will remain open and accessible to those with Italy’s ‘super green pass’ health certificate that shows the bearer is vaccinated against or recovered from Covid.

EXPLAINED: What are the rules in Italy’s Covid ‘orange’ zones?

There are presently 15 regions in the yellow zone and six regions are still in the lowest-risk ‘white’ zone – but some of those in the lowest restricted tier could lose that status and soon move up into a ‘yellow’ zone.

To enter a ‘yellow’ zone, any region above the threshold of 10 percent ICU and 15 percent general ward Covid patient occupancy and with a new weekly incident rate of 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants should automatically be moved into this tier.

Campania now has yellow-zone data with 12 percent intensive care occupancy and 25 percent admissions in non-critical areas. Umbria too has already met the criteria for a ‘yellow’ zone with 16 percent ICU admissions and 30 percent for ordinary wards.

The health situation is worsening in Puglia with 10 percent ICU admissions and 17 percent for ordinary admissions, while in Sardinia ICU admissions are 14 percent and general wards are 13 percent.

The incidence rate for all these regions has already far exceeded the threshold for this parameter.

The only two regions not at risk of losing their ‘white’ zone status at the moment are Basilicata and Molise.

Anti-contagion measures in both ‘white’ and ‘yellow’ zones are similar – until January 31st at least, mask-wearing outdoors is mandatory even in the ‘white’ zone.

Note that local authorities in Italy can also decide to impose stricter rules at short notice. Always check the latest restrictions in your province or town: find out how here.

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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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.”