The coronavirus infection rate in Italy is on the rise again. While data on hospitalizations and deaths from the virus remain low, indications are that the government will extend the national state of emergency and green pass rules well into next year.
According to Nino Cartabellotta of the Gimbe Foundation, a health sector observatory, a 42-percent increase in the country’s weekly infection rate was proof that “the virus has started to circulate again.”
Data from Tuesday showed over 2,800 new infections — the first time in a week the daily figure has been below 4,000. But last Friday, the infection number was 5,334, the highest one-day figure since early September. And starting early last week, the trend line for total active cases in Italy began to climb again after steadily falling since the first days of September.
The total of nearly 85,000 active cases remains far below this year’s peak of nearly 550,000 in March and the all-time peak of over 800,000 in November 2020. But media reports show the government is taking the rising trend seriously.
Major media including the financial daily Il Sole/24 Ore, the Turin-based daily newspaper La Stampa, and Rome’s Il Tempo all reported Tuesday that the state of emergency set to expire on Dec. 31 will be extended into next year, most likely until March 2022. Use of the green pass, which shows a resident’s coronavirus health status, will be extended to June of next year.
A state of emergency gives government officials temporary power to act quickly to tamp down new coronavirus outbreaks and allocate funding, all through the use of emergency decrees. It also includes the power to instate new travel restrictions, and requirements for social distancing and mask-wearing.
Italy’s vaccination rate has been among the country’s strengths in recent months. To date, the country has fully vaccinated 44.8 million residents, or 83 percent of the country’s population aged 12 and above. But according to La Stampa, the vaccination rate is slowing dramatically, dropping last week to 184,000 vaccines distributed, down from 345,000 a week earlier.
Andrea Costa, an undersecretary at the Ministry of Health, told Sky-24 television news Tuesday that current restrictions would likely remain in place until the vaccination rate rises.
“I believe that only when we get to 90 percent of the population vaccinated can we start to think of changes to the way the green pass is used,” Costa said.
Fabrizio Pregliasco, a virologist at the University of Milan, agreed with the government-mandated restrictions, adding that a return to widespread lockdowns and stricter health rules remained unlikely.
“I believe that the prudent Italian approach, made up of precautionary measures and vaccinations, seems to be paying off,” Pregliasco said. “We could see some micro red zones if there are localized increases in infections, but I think a scenario of new lockdowns remains a remote possibility and as a last resort.”
Despite the steady rise in the coronavirus infection rate in recent weeks, other indicators appear to remain at low levels.
The daily mortality rate, for example, remains far below peaks of more than 700 in April and nearly 1,000 from March and December of last year. Total hospitalizations and the number of patients in intensive-care units have also remained far below previous peaks.