Omicron soon to be "dominant variant" as Italy records highest daily number of covid infections since the start of the pandemic.
The Italian government has tightened its covid restrictions and Green Pass rules as new data shows that the highly transmissible Omicron variant is spreading rapidly in Italy.
The new measures were announced by health minister Roberto Speranza on Thursday night after a day of intense meetings between premier Mario Draghi, the Italian cabinet, government health advisors and regional leaders.
The news come just after Italy's health ministry registered 44,595 new covid infections over the last 24 hours (up from 36,293 the day before) in what are the highest figures since the start of the pandemic.
The new rules include reducing the duration of the Green Pass certificate, which grants access to a wide range of activities and venues, to six months from the current nine, with effect from 1 February.
To access nursing homes it will be necessary to have had either three doses of the covid vaccine or two doses plus a negative covid test result.
Super Green Pass
The scope of the Super Green Pass - which can only be obtained by those who have been vaccinated or recovered from covid - will be extended to museums, gyms, swimming pools, wellness centres, spas, bingo halls and social centres.
From 30 December until the end of Italy's state of emergency (31 March) it will be necessary to show the Super Green Pass in bars, restaurants and indoor venues to consume food or drinks at the counter.
This means that those who are unvaccinated will not be able to get a coffee, alcoholic beverage or sandwich while standing at the bar, and can only be served outside.
The minimum waiting time between the second dose of the covid vaccine and the 'booster' shot has been reduced from five to four months.
The government has reimposed a mask mandate outdoors nationwide, even in Italy's lowest-risk 'white zones', until 31 January 2022.
The more protective FFP2 masks are now required for indoor venues including cinemas, theatres and sports stadiums, as well as on public transport. This measure will be in place until 31 March.
Dance halls, discos and night clubs will be closed until 31 January 2022, Speranza announced, bypassing the busy New Year period.
In addition there is a nationwide ban until 31 January on public and private events that involve people gathering outdoors. It is also forbidden to consume food and drinks in cinemas, theatres and at sporting events.
Speranza promised more screening at schools, airports and at Italy's borders. Warning that Omicron is far more contagious than other variants, the minister described vaccines as a "fundamental defence" and called on people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
The new measures come as preliminary studies undertaken by Italy's higher health institute (ISS) show that the Omicron variant accounted for 28 per cent of covid cases in the country.
ISS president Silvio Brusaferro said on Thursday that the results confirm the "great speed" at which Omicron spreads, estimating that it is "soon set to become the predominant variant", as is the case elsewhere in Europe.
Brusaferro said the best measures to combat Omicron included getting vaccinated, wearing masks and keeping social interactions to a minimum.
For official information about the covid-19 situation in Italy see the health ministry website. Cover image: DELBO ANDREA / Shutterstock.com.