Italy is to become a 'red zone' for much of the Christmas holiday period, with the country effectively placed under a national lockdown into the new year.
The Italian government has declared the maximum level 'red zone' restrictions across Italy over the Christmas season - on Sundays, public holidays and the days before holidays - in an effort to avert a third wave of covid-19.
Italy's premier Giuseppe Conte announced the measures at Palazzo Chigi late on 18 December, following several days of protracted discussions among government ministers, regional leaders and expert advisors.
Conte said that the zona rossa restrictions will apply nationwide on 24, 25, 26, 27, 31 December and 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 January 2021, effectively placing the country under a form of lockdown on these days.
Under the red zone legislation - intended for areas with the highest coronavirus contagion rates - bars, restaurants and non-essential shops will be closed, in addition to restricting people from leaving their homes unless for urgent or necessary reasons such as work or health.
Supermarkets, pharmacies, banks, post offices, barbers, hairdressers, dry cleaners, newsstands and tobacconists will remain open, and people will be able to attend religious services in church, and go jogging or cycling in the vicinity of their homes.
It will also be possible for people to leave small towns with a population of under 5,000 inhabitants, within a radius of 30 kilometres. However, people will not be able to travel to the main towns or cities in their regions, even if they are within a 30-km radius.
People leaving their homes will be required to carry a self-declaration form, and identification, justifying their reasons for being out.
On the days when the red zone restrictions are not in place (28, 29, 30 December and 4 January) the country will become an 'orange zone' (zona arancia), with shops open but bars and restaurants closed.
In addition, under the Christmas restrictions a maximum of two non-cohabiting people will be permitted to visit private homes only once a day, on both "red" and "0range" days. This measure will not apply to children under the age of 14 or to people with disabilities or those who are not self-sufficient.
The existing nationwide curfew from 22.00 until 05.00 will remain in place each night.
People are not permitted to move between Italy's regions from 21 December until 6 January.
Conte also announced a new package of economic assistance for bars and restaurants which have been forced to close.
Italy is currently divided into a three-tier system of red (high risk), orange (medium risk) and yellow (low risk) zones.
What are the rules in Italy's red zones?
People are prohibited from entering or leaving red zone regions, or moving to other towns or cities within red zones. People may only leave their homes for reasons of necessity, such as work, health or taking children to school. Bars, pubs, restaurants and most shops are closed. Takeway food is permitted until 22.00 and there is no time limit on home deliveries. Food shops, pharmacies and hairdressers are allowed to remain open.
What are the rules in Italy's orange zones?
Restaurants and bars are closed but shops remain open. People can move freely within their towns and cities, but not leave them even to travel to other towns in the same region. It is forbidden to enter or leave the region.
The latest restrictions come the same day that Italy's health ministry registered 17,992 new covid-19 cases and 674 coronavirus-related deaths over the last 24 hours, down from 683 fatalities the day before.
The panel of experts advising the government on its covid-19 policies has been urging tougher action for the Christmas holidays, to replace the "insufficient" measures set out in the emergency decree from 3 December.
Earlier this week Prof. Walter Ricciardi, an adviser to Italy’s health ministry, called for coronavirus restrictions to be drastically tightened to avoid a “national tragedy.”
Speaking on television channel La7, Ricciardi said: "We are in a war situation, people don’t realise it but the last time we had this many deaths, bombs were dropping on our cities during the war.”
The announcement of new restrictions comes days after Italy witnessed large crowds of people shopping in cities last weekend, in scenes described as "intolerable" by Italy's coronavirus commissioner Domenico Arcuri.
This article is being updated. Photo credit: VILTVART / Shutterstock.com.