Starting today and until March 5th, 2021, Italy is going to implement a new series of restrictions against the coronavirus epidemic. These include a ban on traveling outside one’s region and the toughening of the criteria leading to local lockdowns.

Since November 2020, the country has implemented a system in which regions are attributed different colors and restrictions according to a number of factors, mostly depending on the level of pressure on hospitals and intensive care units. 

With the latest governmental decree, on top of the three red, orange and yellow zones, a new “white” zone is going to be introduced, namely for regions that register only 50 new cases per day over 100,000 inhabitants. Currently, no region in Italy is any close to these figures, and it is foreseen that it will take months before any area in the country can be considered safe to that degree. Italy is currently recording about 17,000 new cases and more than 500 deaths every day. The regions that are doing worse are Lombardy, the Bolzano region and Sicily, but overall 15 regions out of 20 are in a critical state, between orange and red zone. 

“The color system has not worked, due to a misconception that the reopenings were going to happen as soon as certain parameters were met, regardless of whether the situation was consolidated or not,” said Massimo Galli, infectious disease chief specialist at the Sacco hospital in Milan. “Before and during the Christmas holidays, the figures that were going down have started rising again,” he added. “For the moment we do not have an unbearable pressure over hospitals, but indications are all for keeping up our guard”.

According to the National Health Institute (ISS), “This week there still is a generally high risk of an uncontrolled and unmanageable epidemic”. Yet, regions such as Lombardy are now protesting against the closures: “We do not share the decision to make Lombardy a red zone, so if it is made official, we will appeal against it,” said Attilio Fontana, governor of the region. 

Red zone rules include closure of all non-essential services, closure of schools after sixth grade, a ban on traveling outside one’s town, and a ban on getting outside of home without a valid reason. New rules in the latest decree allow the opening of museums, though only on weekdays and only in yellow zones, whilst banning arrivals from the United Kingdom and Ireland. The good news is that for all other travelers coming from abroad there will be no need to quarantine, as long as they have a negative PCR test result obtained within 48 hours before arrival. Ski resorts, as well as pools and gyms, will continue to remain closed. Take-away from bars and restaurants will only be allowed until 6 pm, while a general curfew between 10 pm and 5 am remains valid all over the country.

The Italian government decided to opt for new restrictions despite its efficient vaccine rollout strategy: currently more than 1 million people have been vaccinated in the country, placing Italy among the top performing member states in the EU, according to Our World in Data statistics. With a rate of 1.66% vaccinated people as of January 15th, Italy scores higher than Germany (1.15%) and France (0.6%), although countries such as Denmark (2.54%) and the UK (5.42%) are performing better. So far, Italy has inoculated 1,059,294 doses among primary targets (namely medical staff and fragile elderly), although special commissioner Domenico Arcuri, in charge of the vaccination plan, warns that Pfizer is already planning to deliver about 29% less doses than initially announced, starting from next week. A similar announcement was launched in all EU countries by the pharmaceutical company, explaining that the delay is due to the effort to ramp up production from the 1.3 billion doses initially planned to 2 billion. 

“Seen how serious and untimely the communication, the emergency commissioner has sent a formal request to Pfizer Italy, reporting his disappointment, indicating potential consequences of a supply reduction, and asking for immediate reinstatement of the doses to be distributed in Italy,” the commissioner’s office announced. Before March 2021, Italy should be receiving almost 9 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the only kind currently available in the EU alongside the Moderna vaccine, which also started being delivered in Italy this week. The EU member states are also awaiting the European Commission’s approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Some 16 million doses of this last vaccine should be delivered in Italy by the end of March.

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