People in Italy will no longer have to wear masks outdoors from June 28, the government has said, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations decline in one of Europe’s worst-hit countries by the pandemic.
Mandatory masks were imposed in October last year, when the country was entering a second wave of infections and authorities were struggling to curb a surging national caseload.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government has been steadily lifting restrictions since April, allowing restaurants, bars, cinemas and gyms to reopen and permitting freedom of movement around the country.
The wearing of masks was one of the last rules to remain in place.
It will not be lifted entirely, the government said on Monday; people will still be required to wear masks in indoor public areas and on public transport.
People will be advised to continue carrying a mask with them when they leave home and be ready to wear it outdoors if there is a crowd and for events with higher risk of virus transmission, such as large gatherings.
The decision will be effective from next Monday, when the nation is expected to be a COVID-19 white zone, the lowest risk level in Italy’s four-tier colour-coded system to calibrate curbs in its 20 regions.
Nineteen regions are already white.
The tiny northern area of Valle d’Aosta is the exception – it is yellow, denoting the second-lowest risk level.
“From June 28 we will leave behind the need to wear masks outside in white zones,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza posted on Facebook after receiving advice from the government’s board of experts.
The announcement follows similar decisions in other European states such as France and Spain, although worries remain in Europe over the spread of the new, highly contagious Delta variant.
Twenty-six percent of Italians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while about 52 percent have received at least one dose.
The vaccination figures are broadly in line with other large European Union countries.
Meanwhile, cases are now at their lowest level in 2021 and pressure on hospitals is easing steadily. There were 21 deaths and 495 new infections recorded nationwide on Monday.
Italy has recorded 127,291 coronavirus deaths overall and 4.25 million infections.