‘Not offensive’: Italian minister defends Covid testing rule for China arrivals

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Italy’s health ministry described the Covid-19 situation in the country as “unpredictable” as 2023 begins, urging people to be cautious and suggesting restrictions could return ahead of a likely increase in case numbers after the festive period.

At the moment case numbers in Italy are still in decline, the health ministry confirmed in a circular published on Friday.

Data from Italy’s control centre monitoring the pandemic confirmed a decreasing trend in the incidence of new cases, and stabilisation of the number of cases that require intensive care.

But as winter makes the circulation of viruses easier and case numbers rise in some countries – particularly in China – the government urged people to be cautious.

As scheduled, Italy’s government further relaxed most of the remaining containment measures within the country from December 31st – while also bringing in a testing requirement for visitors from China and suggesting that some domestic restrictions could soon return.

The health ministry recommended the voluntary use of masks indoors and said that if infection rates spike it would consider adopting “other measures such as working from home or limiting the size of gatherings”.

Rule changes so far

From January 1st, planned rule changes removed the requirement for infected people to test negative to exit quarantine following a five-day isolation period and reducing the ‘self-surveillance’ masking period for close contacts from ten to five days.

The amendments also bring an end to a requirement for all visitors to healthcare facilities, such as hospitals and care homes, to show proof of vaccination against Covid-19 or a recent negative test result.

However, the health ministry on Thursday extended a mask mandate in all healthcare settings until April 30th 2023, in the same ordinance which ordered mandatory Covid testing before boarding and upon arrival for all passengers flying to Italy from China amid concern about an explosion in the number of cases there as its borders reopen.

The rules, in force until January 31st, mean all passengers travelling to Italy from China must show a negative test result upon boarding and also undergo an antigen test upon arrival in Italy, the foreign ministry stated.

Those who tested positive on arrival would be required to isolate in Italy, it confirmed.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy ordered Covid tests for all arrivals from China?

The ministry also recommended strengthening surveillance systems and increasing genomic sequencing to detect new variants of the Sars-CoV-2 virus, and stressed the importance of indoor ventilation and vaccinations.

“High vaccination coverage, completion of vaccination cycles and maintenance of a high immune response through the booster dose represent necessary tools to mitigate the clinical impact of the epidemic,” the circular stated.

There are concerns about falling immunity rates in Italy however due to low levels of uptake of the booster jab this winter.

The government meanwhile in December scrapped a requirement for healthcare staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19, and reinstated those who were suspended from work due to refusal of the vaccine.