The country relaxed their restrictions after a nationwide lockdown considerably slowed their COVID-19 cases, but infections are ticking up again

By Julie Mazziotta
August 17, 2020 05:42 PM
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Tourists walk near the Spanish Steps in Rome
| Credit: Alberto PIZZOLI/Getty images

Italy is closing nightclubs and requiring that all citizens wear masks in the hopes of slowing a new spike in COVID-19 cases.

The new restrictions are the country’s first since they ended a nationwide lockdown in mid-May, which helped Italy go from one of the world’s worst outbreaks of COVID-19 to recording around 200 cases a day for most of June and July.

But with cases on the rise — Italy reported 477 new infections on Sunday, and cases have hovered over 350 since Aug. 5 — officials are hoping that these new measures will send infections back down as citizens return from August vacations and students head back to school.

“We cannot jeopardize the sacrifices made in these last months,” Italy's health minister, Roberto Speranza, said, according to the Washington Post. “Our priority must be to safely reopen schools in September.”

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Italy was the hardest-hit country with upwards of 6,000 cases a day in mid-March, quickly outpacing China. Cases were concentrated in northern Italy, in older citizens, and over 35,400 people in the country have died since the start of the outbreak. Epidemiologists believe that many of the U.S.’s cases, particularly on the East Coast, came from travelers to and from Italy.

Italian health officials instituted the nationwide lockdown on March 10, and cases steadily dropped during the two months that non-essential citizens were required to stay home.

But now, cases have started to rise in younger Italians — the average age of an infected person is now 35, down from the mid-60s at the peak of their outbreak — and officials say that traveling is likely to blame.

“The reason [for the new cases] is mostly young people gathering and behaving like nothing has happened,” Walter Ricciardi, the World Health Organization’s Italian government adviser, said, according to the Post. “There is quite a lot of movement by young people, going out of Italy for holidays and coming in. The circulation of the virus has been very intense.”

According to Italy’s National Institute of Health, around 20 percent of the new cases are from citizens traveling outside the country. The nightclubs are also a likely source, said government officials, as many have not been following reduced capacity regulations.

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