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Italy tightens Covid restrictions as some regions face return to ‘yellow’ zone

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A government decree that comes into force from December 6th will require a ‘super green pass’ health certificate to access most venues and services across the country, in a bid to contain Italy’s rising infection rate and ensure Christmas celebrations can go ahead as planned.

The ‘super green pass’ can be obtained only by those who are vaccinated against or have recovered from Covid-19. 

It supersedes the basic ‘green pass’, which was also available to those who had recently tested negative for the virus; though the basic green pass will still be valid for use on public transport and to access workplaces.

READ ALSO: Italy to impose ‘super green pass’ Covid restrictions on unvaccinated

Speaking at a televised press conference on Monday evening, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the restrictions would mean a “normal” Christmas this year for those who are vaccinated, and would “give certainty to the tourist season”.

The announcement comes amid media reports that some Italian regions will be placed under increased restrictions starting next week.

People wearing a face mask do some window shopping on Piazza di Spagna in central Rome on December 13, 2020.

People wearing a face mask do some window shopping on Piazza di Spagna in central Rome on December 13, 2020. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

The northerneastern region of Friuli Venezia Giulia will be returned to the more restricted ‘yellow’ zone from Monday, after it met all of the Italian government’s criteria for tightened restrictions.

Italy operates under a four-tier colour coded system for coronavirus restrictions, with ‘white’ zone areas under the most relaxed rules, and ‘yellow’, ‘orange’ and ‘red’ zones under increasingly strict restrictions.

Since October, the entire country has been in the least-restricted white zone – but this week, Friuli Venezia Giulia’s hospital ward occupancy and Covid infection rates exceeded the limits put in place by the government last summer.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How will Italy’s Covid restrictions change in December?

The region’s figures stood at 15 percent Covid patient ICU occupancy and 18 percent general hospital ward occupancy as of November 24th, according to data provided by Agenas, Italy’s National Agency for Health Services.

Under a law introduced by Italy’s government in July, any region above the threshold of 10 percent ICU and 15 percent general ward Covid patient occupancy and with a new weekly incident rate of 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants should automatically be placed in the yellow zone.

It’s thought that mass demonstrations held in the region’s capital of Trieste last month to protest the introduction of a Covid health certificate requirement for Italy’s workers are partly behind its deteriorating health situation.

A Santa Claus puppet wearing a face mask is displayed in the window of a food store at Rome's Trevi fountain square on December 23, 2020.

A Santa Claus puppet wearing a face mask is displayed in the window of a food store at Rome’s Trevi fountain square on December 23, 2020. Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

According to Italian media, Friuli Venezia Giulia’s governor Massimiliano Fedriga has agreed to enforce the government’s ‘super green pass’ rules from Monday, allowing the region’s vaccinated population to bypass restrictions they would otherwise be subject to.

READ ALSO: Q&A: How will Italy’s new Covid ‘super green pass’ work?

Currently, ‘yellow zone’ restrictions require an area’s inhabitants to wear a mask both outdoors and in indoor public spaces, and restaurants can seat a maximum of four diners to a table.

While those in a yellow zone will still be required to mask up outdoors, under the new rules, people who hold the ‘super green pass’ will be able to access “indoor catering”, shows (such as theatre performances), parties, nightclubs, sporting events, and “public ceremonies”, as normal.

Other parts of the country currently expected to join Friuli Venezia Giulia in the yellow zone within the next couple of weeks are the autonomous province of Bolzano, which had 10 percent ICU and 15 percent general ward Covid patient occupancy rates as of November 24th; as well as Marche, Liguria, Lazio, Calabria, which all have figures approaching the threshold.

Some of Italy’s larger cities are putting into place their own preemptive strategies to try to contain their infection rates.

On Thursday, Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala said he was preparing to sign a measure making facemasks mandatory outdoors across the city center from the coming weekend, reports news agency Ansa.

And in Venice, mayor Luigi Brugnaro has already signed an order requiring the use of masks at Christmas markets and other large outdoor gatherings in the city, reports Sky TG 24.



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All you need to know on getting the Moderna vaccine as a booster

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People due to receive their Covid-19 booster vaccine in coming weeks will primarily be offered the Moderna dose at HSE vaccination centres.

The HSE is reported to have large supplies of Moderna due to expire next month, so that will be the main vaccine administered over coming weeks to the over-60s, over-50s, healthcare workers, and younger people in vulnerable groups – though it will be restricted to people over 30.

Anecdotally there are indications some people may be reluctant to take the Moderna vaccine. This may be due to Irish stocks about to expire shortly and/or confusion about its efficacy. This follows the company’s chief executive Stéphane Bancel warning last week the Moderna jab may not be as effective against Omicron as it had been with the Delta variant.

The HSE has confirmed recipients will have no choice on what vaccine they are given.

What type of coronavirus vaccine is the Moderna jab?

It is a new kind of synthetic “mRNA vaccine” – the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is from the same stable. They provide excellent protection against severe illness and hospitalisation – and have played a critical role in reducing Covid-19 deaths since being approved. A downside, however, is that the Moderna version must be kept at -20 degrees.

Should people be worried about receiving a soon to be out-of-date vaccine?





Total doses distributed to Ireland Total doses administered in Ireland


10,093,390


8,193,802

In short no, as they retain the ability to boost antibody production within currently approved time spans – though inevitably potency wanes over time. The Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Janssen (Johnson&Johnson) vaccines were put on the market with emergency use authorisation of up to six months.

This compares with a shelf life of two to three years for most vaccines and other medicines. This is an “inevitable consequence of getting the vaccines out of the door as quickly as possible”, chief scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Gino Martini told the journal BMJ.

Months later, these “emergency” expiry dates remain in force for these vaccines. For approved Covid-19 vaccines, the initial shelf lives were based on data available at the time of submission for regulatory approval.

The long-term shelf life has not been extended for any of the vaccines. A shelf life extension would require supporting evidence from relevant stability studies. Vaccine manufacturers are monitoring batches of vaccines with the aim of providing a longer shelf life; probably the usual two years.

What about the Omicron threat?

While Moderna said existing vaccines including its mRNA version will probably be less effective against the Omicron variant, most experts believe they will continue to provide significant protection against severe disease and hospitalisation. It should be stressed, however, definitive indication has yet to emerge. That will be a matter of weeks, if not days.

Moderna has confirmed it is developing an Omicron-specific booster though manufacturing the new vaccine would take time. Tens of millions of doses could be available in the first quarter of 2022, but scale-up would not happen until the second quarter – provided it is shown such boosters are required.

What is the latest indication on the benefits of mixing vaccines?

Evidence supporting a mixing of vaccine doses has hardened over recent months. A study this week shows combining a first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine with a second dose of either the Moderna or the Novavax jabs results in far higher levels of neutralising antibodies and T-cells compared with two doses of the AstraZeneca jab.

This finding also has important implications for lower-income countries that have not yet completed their primary vaccination campaigns as it suggests you do not need access to mRNA vaccines – and therefore ultra-cold storage facilities – to trigger an extremely potent Covid-19 vaccine response.

The study also bolsters confidence that using the Moderna vaccine as a booster dose in people who have previously received the AstraZeneca jab should result in high levels of neutralising antibodies and T-cells.

It follows separate data published last week suggesting the Pfizer and Moderna booster jabs can dramatically strengthen the body’s immune defences.

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Woman (90s) dies following single-vehicle crash in Co Clare

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A woman in her 90s has died following a single-vehicle crash in Co Clare in the early hours of Tuesday.

The incident occurred at about 12.30am at Annagh, Miltown Malbay. The woman, who was the driver and sole occupant of the car involved in the crash, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Her body was removed to Limerick University Hospital, where gardaí say a postmortem will take place at a later date.

The road has been closed to facilitate an exam by Garda forensic collision investigators, and local diversions are in place.

Gardaí have appealed for witnesses – particularly road users who may have camera footage – to come forward. Anyone with information can contact Kilrush Garda station (065 908 0550), the confidential line (1800 666 111), or any Garda station.

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What areas will be worst hit and what is closing?

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Just how serious is Storm Barra?

Storm Barra is set to hit Ireland fully on Tuesday morning, with Met Éireann warning that the severe weather could pose a threat to life.

The storm will rapidly deepen over the west and south coast on Monday evening, bringing very strong winds and heavy rain on Tuesday and into Wednesday.

Met Éireann have also warned that there is a risk of snow, as well as coastal flooding, due to the combination of high waves, storm surges and high tide.

Southwesterly winds, which will later veer northwesterly, will reach mean speeds in excess of 80 km/h.

Severe or damaging gusts may reach speeds in excess of 130km/h.

Power and travel may be disrupted across the country.

What are the areas most affected?

There is a status red wind warning in place for counties Cork, Kerry and Clare. Cork and Kerry’s warning starts at 6am on Tuesday and lasts until 9pm that evening.

Clare will be under a red alert from 4pm on Tuesday until 1am on Wednesday.

Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Mayo, Wexford, Dublin, Louth, Wicklow and Meath are also under an orange wind warning.

However, Met Éireann have advised that there is a strong possibility that the status orange alerts will escalate to status red.

A red marine storm warning will also be in effect for Irish coastal waters from north Mayo to Cork city.

The rest of the country will be under a status yellow wind and rain warning, with Met Éireann saying that heavy rain may result in surface flooding.

There is also a risk of snow over the entire country, and flooding in coastal areas.

Is it okay to go out in the storm?

People in the affected areas are being advised to avoid all unnecessary journeys, meaning you should stay indoors if possible.

People on motorbikes, cyclists, and pedestrians should take extra care if they have to travel, and they should avoid coastal areas.

Motorists are also advised to be more wary while driving, and to look out for fallen trees and debris on the road.

The charity Alone urged older people to take extra care and called on members of the public to “check in with their older neighbours and relatives and assist them if they need to travel to the local shop, post office or medical appointments during the bad weather”.

What has been cancelled or closed?

The Department of Education, which oversees primary and secondary schools, has advised schools in red and orange alert counties to close.

The Department of Higher Education, which governs colleges, universities and further education institutes, has issued a similar statement, saying education institutions in red and orange alert counties should close also.

Creches, early learning and school-age childcare services in the 12 counties should not open tomorrow, according to the Department of Children. Services that close will receive Force Majeure funding, according to the department.

Bus Éireann services in Co Cork and Co Kerry will be suspended for the full day. Services in Co Clare will be suspended from 4pm on Tuesday until 1am on Wednesday. This cancellation will also apply to all routes operating into or out of the status red warning area including Expressway Route 51.

Some hospital appointments have been cancelled, and Covid-19 testing and vaccination centres in status red and orange counties have also been forced to close due to the storm. A list of the affected health services can be found here. The National Ambulance Service will prioritise emergency calls during this weather event but is urging the general public to think carefully before calling 999/112.

The Courts Service has also confirmed that all sittings in red alert counties have been cancelled.

The Department of Local Government said a large number of national parks and reserves including Killarney National Park and Muckross House would close on Tuesday and Wednesday. Powerscourt Estate in Co Wicklow will close from 8am until 1pm on Tuesday.

Aldi has also said its stores in Cork and Kerry will be closed all day Tuesday, and their Clare stores will shut at 3pm on Tuesday.

Lidl and Tesco stores in Cork and Kerry will also be closed all day.

How long is the storm expected to last?

According to Met Éireann, Storm Barra will gradually clear Ireland later on Wednesday and winds will slowly ease, with a more settled few days to end the week.

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