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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Europe Places Tighter Mask Rules as Winter COVID-19 Cases Spike

To mask or not to mask was a question Italy answered emphatically early in the COVID-19 epidemic. Now, the pandemic’s former hub in Europe believes that even harsher mask regulations would help it combat the new infection wave.

As the more transmissible — but presumably less virulent — omicron variety spreads throughout the continent, other countries are taking similar steps.

With hospital ICUs in Italy quickly filling up with primarily unvaccinated COVID-19 patients, the government ordered on Christmas Eve that FFP2 masks, which provide greater protection than cloth or surgical masks, must be worn on public transportation, including aircraft, trains, ferries, and subways.

Despite the fact that, beginning of this week, all travelers in Italy must be vaccinated or have just recovered from COVID-19. FFP2s must now be worn at all times, inside or out, at theaters, cinemas, and sporting events, and they cannot be removed even to eat or drink.

Italy has reintroduced the need for wearing a mask outside. It had never repealed the indoor ban, even though infection rates decreased dramatically in the summer.

Lillo D’Amico, 84, wore a wool hat and white FFP2 as he purchased a newspaper at his local kiosk on a chilly morning in Rome this week.

“(Masks) are inexpensive, but they need a slight sacrifice,” he explained. “When you do the math, it’s a lot less expensive than going to the hospital.”

He keeps his distance when he sees someone from the uncovered minority walking past. “They regard (masks) as a violation of their liberty,” D’Amico shrugged.

On Christmas Eve, Spain reintroduced its outside mask rule. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was questioned if the outside mask requirement was helping after the 14-day contagion rate increased to 2,722 new illnesses per 100,000 individuals at the end of last week, up from 40 per 100,000 in mid-October.

“Of course it is,” says the speaker. That isn’t me who says it. “Science says it because (it’s) a virus that is transmitted when one exhales,” Sanchez explained.

Portugal reintroduced masks at the end of November, after mainly abandoning the mandate once it reached its objective of vaccinating 86 percent of the population.

Greece has also reinstated its outdoor mask requirement, while public transportation and inside public venues now need an FFP2 or double surgical mask.

The Dutch government’s outbreak control committee suggested last week that persons over the age of 13 wear masks in crowded public indoor venues including restaurants, museums, and theaters, as well as spectators at indoor sporting events. Those locations are now under lockdown and will remain so until at least Friday, January 14.

In December, numerous towns in France, including Paris, partly reinstated the outside mask law. The age at which children can begin wearing masks in public places has been decreased from 11 to 6.

Last Monday, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer announced that those who can’t maintain at least two meters (6.5 feet) apart outside must wear FFP2 masks.

With more than 2 million individuals infected in a country of 60 million people with working absences disrupting rail and bus services, the government in Italy views masks as a method to allow society to function more completely.

After coming into touch with an infectious individual, those having booster injections or recent second vaccination doses can now escape quarantine by wearing an FFP2 mask for 10 days.

The government has ordered that FFP masks be sold at 75 cents in stores (85 U.S. cents). FFP2s cost up to 10 euros ($11.50) in the first year of the epidemic, when they could be found.

They come in a variety of colors and are worn by Italians. The father of a newborn who was christened in the Sistine Chapel this week by Pope Francis wore one in burgundy with a matching tie and jacket pocket square. The pontiff, however, who has generally boycotted wearing a mask in public, was not wearing one.

The Vatican City State enforced FFP2s in all interior areas on Monday. The tiny, walled sovereign state across the Tiber from Rome’s heart also ruled that, in addition to being completely vaccinated or having gotten a booster injection, Vatican personnel can proceed to work without being quarantined after coming into contact with someone testing positive if they wear FFP2s.

Francis did appear to be wearing an FFP2 as he exited from a music store near the Pantheon on Tuesday evening, surprising shoppers in Rome before being transported back to the Vatican.

Masks have never been necessary outside in the United Kingdom, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson has concentrated on immunization.

However, the government has announced that secondary school pupils need wear facial covers in class. However, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi stated that the restriction will not apply “for more than a day.”

When the British government relaxed pandemic restrictions in July 2021, making mask use a suggestion rather than a necessity, mask use plummeted.

According to Nino Cartabellotta, head of the Bologna-based GIMBE organization, which oversees Italian health care, Britain demonstrates what may happen when preventative measures such as mask use aren’t respected.

“The scenario in the United Kingdom demonstrated that vaccination alone was not enough” to prevent the pandemic, he said in a video interview, despite the fact that Britain was one of the first nations to initiate immunization.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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