Italy will impose new restrictions against unvaccinated people to stop the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant that has pushed infections to the country’s highest one-day total.
Under the new rules, people who have not been vaccinated will be barred from entering museums, exhibitions, amusement parks, bingo parlours and betting halls – places that until now they could access with a negative test result.
Already barred from seating in restaurants, their dining options have now been completely shut down as they can no longer be served standing at a bar.
“It is important that we present a series of measures to respond to the growth of cases that we see in the last days, due to the arrival in our country in a significant way of the Omicron variant,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza said.
Italians are preparing to celebrate the Christmas holiday weekend, with many planning family gatherings that were barred last year during the surge of the Delta variant.
The government has not ordered any rules for private gatherings, but it has set its sights on New Year’s Eve, banning outdoor events and closing discos until the end of January.
The new regulations will be gradually implemented, starting on Friday.
Long lines formed at testing sites in Milan on Thursday, as people worried about suspected cases sought to be tested alongside those who continue to be tested every 48 hours to have access to workplaces.
And in neighbouring Veneto, some testing sites for PCR swabs posted notices that they had exhausted their available appointments for the next 60 days.
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In the past 24 hours, Italy recorded nearly 44,600 new infections, its highest ever, and 168 deaths.
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus represents nearly one third of the new cases.
The head of Italy’s national health institute, Silvio Brusaferro, said that Omicron would be dominant by next week, with “slow but continuous growth”.
Italy was the first major economy to adopt a health pass to give access to workplaces, but has allowed a negative test every 48 hours instead of full vaccination or proof of recovery from Covid-19.
Mask mandates have remained in place in public indoor settings and public transport.
Now that has been upgraded and only more-protective FFP2 masks may be worn on all public transport, and in cinemas, theatres and stadiums.