Italy considers keeping transport mask mandate as Covid cases rise

The Italian health ministry has suggested face masks could be required on public transport until September following a rise in the contagion rate over the past week.

Italy considers keeping transport mask mandate as Covid cases rise
Italy currently requires passengers on public transport to wear FFP2 masks, but this may be changed to allow any type of mask to be used. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Italy’s health ministry is set to decide by Wednesday, June 15th, whether to keep the requirement to wear masks on all forms of public transport and in healthcare settings, with the current requirement to expire on that date.

So far ministers have not stated what the plans are, as the government is reportedly split over whether to lift the mandate in these situations.

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

The requirement to wear masks currently remains in place on all forms of public transport, in cinemas, theatres and concert halls, at indoor sporting events, in schools, healthcare settings and care homes.

Under the health ministry’s ‘roadmap’ back to normality, almost all measures are set to be scrapped by June 15th in time for the official start of summer.

But the Italian government has already delayed the end of the mask mandate once, on May 1st, and reserves the right to make changes to the plans depending on its assessment of the Covid-19 contagion risk level.

The health ministry is yet to give confirmation of exactly how the measures will change once the current rules expire, and when.

Junior health minister Andrea Costa suggested on Wednesday that masks will remain obligatory on public transport and in hospitals and care homes, perhaps until September.

He told Radio Capital that masks may remain compulsory in “the most crowded places and those where a little more prudence is needed”.

They will no longer be compulsory in other situations, he said.

Though the health ministry is yet to make an official announcement, this was long expected to be the case.

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza confirmed in late May that the government plans to remove the mask mandate in other settings.

“We will certainly be able to remove [masks] in cinemas and theaters. As for public transport, we will consider it,” he said.

Speranza is reportedly strongly in favour of keeping masks mandatory on all forms of local and long-distance public transport, including on domestic flights, with other cabinet ministers in the coalition government pushing to end all restrictions to aid the recovery of tourism.

Italian media reports speculate this week that if the mask requirement remains in place, the rules may be relaxed to allow passengers to wear lower-grade surgical masks rather than the more protective FFP2 masks currently required.

It is not clear whether masks will remain mandatory on international flights to Italy.

This rule could now be dropped after Italy chose to keep the requirement in place until June 15th despite the lifting of an EU-wide mandate in mid-May.

READ ALSO: ‘I hate masks’: Why some visitors choose not to travel to Italy this summer

The decision as to whether masks are required on flights to the country could reportedly be left up to individual airlines. Italy already allows airports to decide their own rules on masks.

There has been no indication as to whether the government also plans to relax the rules on quarantine and isolation for those who test positive for Covid-19.

The government is reportedly set to confirm changes following a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, though the rules on the wearing of masks in schools during upcoming exams are expected to be decided on Monday.

Speranza’s decision will no doubt be influenced by the recent rise in the contagion rate, which is now evident in 14 of Italy’s 21 regions and autonomous provinces.

After weeks of steadily falling infection rates overall in Italy, the contagion curve has now risen again, from a seven-day average of 15,000 last week to 21,000 this week.

There is particular concern about local spikes in cities, such as Milan, where the daily number of new confirmed cases shot up from 261 to 1,095 within the space of a week.

While hospitalisation numbers and the death toll are not showing any sign of increasing at the moment, at this stage in the pandemic we know that these numbers usually rise a couple of weeks after the infection rate.

The recent increase in Italy, as in other countries including Portugal and Germany, is thought to be due to the spread of the coronavirus sub-variant BA.5, which the Italian Higher Health Institute (ISS) says is more contagious and has a greater ability to circumvent immunity given by vaccines.

Current estimates of the number of cases in Italy caused by BA.5 range from 1.4 percent to 13 percent of new infections.

Find more information about Italy’s Covid-19 health restrictions on the Italian health ministry’s website (available in English).

Member comments

  1. I flew with EasyJet from Verona to Gatwick on June 1st and back on June 6th.

    No mask obligation enforced at the airport – and was told it was “individual discretion” on the plane because “the rule has been relaxed”…!

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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.”