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Italy tightens COVID restrictions as experts warn of growing prevalence of variants

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Italy on Saturday announced it was tightening restrictions in five of the country’s 20 regions in an effort curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Driving the news: The announcement comes as health experts and scientists warn of the more transmissible coronavirus variants, per Reuters.

The state of play: For the first time since late January, two regions — Basilicata and Molise — have been placed in the country’s red-zone, the strictest tier of Italy’s color-coded system.

  • All bars, restaurants and non-essential businesses must close and movement will be severely limited.
  • The tiers (white, yellow, orange and red) are based on infection levels and other factors.
  • In Lombardy, Marche and Piedmont, which were moved from the yellow to the orange zone, restaurants and bars must close except for carry-out. Residents are also not allowed to leave their towns except for emergencies or health and work reasons.
  • Yes, but: The island of Sardinia became the first region to move to the minimally restrictive white zone, according to Reuters.

What they’re saying: “Many outbreaks are due to the (new) variants. I am concerned about the progress of the epidemic,” said Gianni Rezza, a senior health ministry adviser, per Reuters.

  • “We must keep up our guard and we must intervene promptly and strongly where needed,” Rezza added.

The big picture: Earlier this week, the country extended a ban on non-essential travel between the regions through at least March 27, per Reuters.

  • Italy began its inoculation campaign last year, and has so far administered more than 4.2 million doses of the vaccine. More than 1.3 million people have been fully vaccinated.
  • According to health ministry data, the country recorded 20,499 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, up from 19,886 the day before.
  • More than 2.9 million cases and 97,500 deaths have been reported in Italy since the pandemic began.

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