Other countries are taking similar action as the more transmissible – but apparently less virulent – omicron variant spreads across the continent.
With intensive care units in Italian hospitals filling up quickly with mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients, the government announced on Christmas Eve that FFP2 masks – which offer users more protection than cloth or surgical masks – should be worn in the hospital. public transportation, including planes, trains, ferries, and subways.
That is even though all passengers in Italy must be vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID-19 from this week. FFP2s now also have to be worn in theatres, cinemas and sporting events, indoors or out, and cannot be removed even for their wearers to eat or drink.
Italy has reintroduced a mandate for outdoor masks. It had never lifted its indoor mandate — even when the number of infections plummeted over the summer.
On a chilly morning in Rome this week, Lillo D’Amico, 84, wore a wool cap and white FFP2 as he bought a newspaper at his neighborhood newsstand.
“(Masks) cost little money, they cost you a little sacrifice,” he said. “If you do the math, it costs a lot less than hospitalization.”
If he sees someone from the unmasked minority walk by, he keeps his distance. “They see (masks) as an insult to their freedom,” D’Amico said with a shrug.
Spain reinstated the rule for outdoor masks on Christmas Eve. After the 14-day infection rate soared late last week to 2,722 new infections per 100,000 people — from 40 per 100,000 in mid-October — Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was asked if the outdoor mask mandate was helping.
“Of course it is. It’s not me saying it. It’s science itself saying it because (it) is a virus that is contracted when one exhales,” Sanchez said.
Portugal brought back masks in late November after largely dropping the requirement when it reached its goal of vaccinating 86% of the population.
Greece has also reinstated its mandate for outdoor masks, while requiring an FFP2 or double surgical mask on public transport and indoor public areas.
This week, the Dutch government’s outbreak management team recommended a mask mandate for people over the age of 13 in crowded indoor public spaces such as restaurants, museums and theaters, and for spectators at indoor sporting events. Those places are currently closed until at least January 14.
In France, the mandate for outdoor masks was partially reinstated in many cities in December, including Paris. The age for children to wear masks in public places has been lowered from 11 to 6.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer announced last week that people outside will be required to wear FFP2 masks if they cannot keep at least two meters (6.5 feet) apart.
In Italy, with more than 2 million people currently testing positive for the virus in a country of 60 million and absenteeism from the workplace limiting train and bus journeys, the government also sees masks as a way to make society better off. Operate.
People with booster shots or recent second vaccine doses can now avoid quarantine after coming into contact with an infected person if they wear an FFP2 mask for 10 days.
The government has ordered stores to make FFP masks available for 75 cents ($0.85). In the first year of the pandemic, FFP2s cost up to 10 euros ($11.50) – whenever they could be found.
Italians wear them in a palette of colors. The father of a baby baptized by Pope Francis in the Sistine Chapel this week wore one in burgundy, with a matching tie and coat pocket. But the Pope, who has practically shunned a mask in public, wore none.
On Monday, Vatican City made FFP2s mandatory in all covered areas. The small, walled independent state across the Tiber from the heart of Rome also stipulated that Vatican workers can go to work without quarantine after coming into contact with someone who tests positive, if, in addition to being fully vaccinated or having received a booster vaccination, FFP2s.
Francis indeed appeared to be wearing an FFP2 when he startled shoppers in Rome from a music store near the Pantheon on Tuesday evening before being returned to the Vatican.
In Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson has focused on vaccination, masks have never been mandatory outdoors.
This month, however, the government said that high school students must wear face masks in class. But Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi said that rule would not apply “a day longer than necessary”.
When the UK government lifted pandemic restrictions in July 2021 and changed mask wearing from a requirement to a suggestion, mask use declined significantly.
Nino Cartabellotta, chair of the Bologna-based GIMBE foundation, which oversees healthcare in Italy, says Britain is pointing to what could happen if measures such as wearing masks are not appreciated.
“The situation in the UK showed that the use of vaccination alone was not enough” to stay ahead of the pandemic, although Britain was one of the first countries to start vaccination, he said in a video interview.
Aritz Parra in Madrid, Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, Elena Becatoros in Athens, Greece, Jill Lawless in London, Sylvie Corbet in Paris, Mike Corder in The Hague and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.
Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic