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COVID-19 RULES

Italy to keep quarantine rules in place as Covid cases rise

Italy will not scrap its mandatory Covid isolation period, the health minister has said, with the government split over whether to follow the ‘English model’ of managing the pandemic.

Italy to keep quarantine rules in place as Covid cases rise
Anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 in Italy must undergo at least one week of isolation. Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP

The Italian health minister said he’s not considering scrapping the country’s existing Covid isolation requirements, following weeks of disagreement within government and among health experts over whether the rule should remain in place.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said “no” when asked by Italian newspaper La Repubblica on Saturday if he’ll end the isolation requirement for positive cases.

“At the moment such a thing is not in question,” he added. “Anyone who is infected must stay at home.”

“There are 650,000 people in solitary confinement right now, and it is unimaginable to tell them they can move around.”

Though Italy has now scrapped almost all other Covid-related health measures – including all entry requirements for travellers – the country still requires anyone who tests positive while in the country to self-isolate for at least one week (see the bottom of the article for more details).

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

Speranza, who is known for taking a cautious line when it comes to managing the pandemic, also decided in mid-June to the keep the requirement to wear masks on public transport in place throughout the summer.

The minister’s clarification came after weeks of debate over whether the isolation rule should also now be dropped or not, with the government reportedly split over the issue.

One of Speranza’s two deputy health ministers, Andrea Costa, has spoken out in favour of scrapping the rule, while the other, Pierpaolo Sileri, said the government should keep it in place.

Several prominent politicians within Italy’s broad coalition government, as well as health experts, have been calling for an end to all restrictions amid a debate over the adoption of a ‘modello inglese‘ or ‘English model’ of managing the pandemic: in England, isolation when infected is only a recommendation, not a requirement. 

Others, including epidemiologist Carlo La Vecchia, meanwhile suggested Italy move towards adopting a ‘Swiss model’: one week of isolation when positive, and no testing requirement at the end of that period.

But as the Covid infection and hospitalisation rates rise again – with the latest official health data showing a 60 percent rise in new infections in just seven days – Speranza doesn’t appear keen to try out either idea in Italy.

READ ALSO:  Why are so many Italians still wearing face masks in shops?

While Speranza told Repubblica “the challenge now is to focus on individual responsibility”, he said certain situations called for rules to remain in place.

“We mustn’t forget what we’ve been through,” he said.

“The most vulnerable must be protected. If they encounter the virus, their lives are still at risk. Their protection does not depend only on their own behavior, but on all of us … for example by putting on a mask in risky places.

“When circulation was very low, I said [the pandemic] was not over, and now I ask everyone once again to be cautious.”

Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

What are Italy’s isolation rules?

In Italy and beyond, any type of Covid isolation period is commonly referred to as ‘quarantine’ (quarantena); though it should be noted that Italy’s health authorities define quarantine as an isolation period “carried out when a healthy person has been exposed to a Covid-19 case, with the aim of monitoring symptoms and providing for the early identification of cases”.

This is as opposed to isolation (isolamento), which is used “to separate people suffering from Covid-19 from healthy ones in order to prevent the spread of infection”.

The health ministry’s existing rules state that anyone who tests positive while in Italy is required to immediately self-isolate for a minimum of seven days – if they’re fully vaccinated or recently recovered from Covid.

Italy’s health ministry defines this as either being vaccinated and boosted (at any time – there’s no time limit or expiry period for those who’ve had a booster shot); or as having completed the primary vaccination cycle or recovered from Covid within the past 120 days (and being able to show certification proving this).

For anyone who is not classed as fully vaccinated or recently recovered, the isolation period is extended to 10 days.

In either case, the infected person must have been symptomless for at least three days in order to exit quarantine (with the exception of symptoms relating to a lost sense of taste or smell).

Reader question: How do Italy’s Covid quarantine rules work for travellers?

The patient must also test negative for the virus via either a molecular (PCR) or rapid antigen test on the final day of the quarantine in order to be allowed out.

Read more about getting tested while in Italy in a separate article here.

Quarantined people who keep testing positive for the virus can be kept in self-isolation for a maximum of 21 days, at which point they will be automatically released.

The prospect of potentially having to spend up to three weeks in isolation is obviously concerning for people visiting Italy on holiday this summer – with a number of The Local’s readers saying they wouldn’t be coming on holiday to Italy this summer if the rules remain in place.

As some countries require people travelling from Italy to test negative before their departure, visitors at the tail end of their journey could also be hit with the unpleasant surprise of finding out they need to quarantine for another week – or longer – in Italy instead of heading home as planned.

Italy does not currently require visitors from any country to test negative in order to enter the country, as long as they are fully boosted or were recently vaccinated/have recently recovered from Covid.

For more information about how Italy’s health regulations may apply to you, see the Italian health ministry’s website or consult the Italian embassy in your country.

Member comments

  1. The rule requiring passengers to wear masks on public transport is a bit of a joke. I have been using trains extensively for well over a month and find that a large percentage of the riders are disregarding this rule. What’s worse is the total disregard by conductors to enforce the law. I don’t know what function they perform on trains as they rarely bother to check anyone’s ticket.

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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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