Mask rules tightened during the Covid-19 wave of winter in Europe

Italy, Spain and other European countries are reimposing or toughening up masks as their hospitals struggle with rising numbers of Covid-19 patients.

Countries like the Netherlands are considering implementing masking rules.

In the case of Italy, the use of more protective FFP2 masks is also seen as a way to keep businesses and public services running.

The Italian government says people who came into contact with people who tested positive for the coronavirus can avoid quarantine, as long as they wear an FFP2 mask in public for 10 days.

With Italy’s hospital ICU rapidly filling up mostly unvaccinated Covid-19 patients, the government announced on Christmas Eve that FFP2 masks – which offer users more protection than cloth or surgical masks – Must be worn on public transport, including plans, trains, ferries and subways. ,

This is on top of current rules that, as of this week, state travelers in Italy must be vaccinated or have recently recovered from Covid-19.

FFP2s must now be worn at theatre, cinema and sporting events, indoors or out, and cannot be removed for their wearers to eat or drink.

Italy reintroduced the outdoor mask mandate, never lifting its indoor mandate – even as infections dropped sharply in the summer.


FFP2 A woman wearing a face mask looks at her phone on a subway train in Lisbon (AP)

Spain reinstated its outdoor mask rule on Christmas Eve. As the 14-day contagion rate soared to 2,722 new infections per 100,000 people by the end of last week – up 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,” said Mr. Sanchez. “I am not saying this. This is what science is saying, because (it) is a virus that is contracted on exhalation.”

Portugal brought back the masks in late November, largely dropping the requirement when it hit its goal of vaccinating 86% of the population.

Greece has also reinstated its outdoor mask mandate, requiring FFP2 or double surgical masks on public transport and indoor public places.


FFP2 Nuns wearing masks listen to Pope Francis during his weekly general audience at Paul VI Hall in the Vatican (AP)

This week, the Dutch government’s outbreak management team recommended a mask mandatory for people over 13 in busy public indoor areas such as restaurants, museums and theatres, and for spectators at indoor sporting events.

Those places are currently closed under a lockdown, which is set to end on Friday.

In France, exterior facade mandates were partially reimposed in December in several cities, including Paris. The age for children to start wearing masks in public places was reduced from 11 to six.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehmer announced last week that people should wear FFP2 masks outside if they cannot keep a distance of at least two metres.

In Italy, with more than two million people currently positive for the virus in a country of 60 million and an absence of trains and buses to the workplace, the government also sees masks as a way to allow society to function fully.

People with booster jabs or a recent second dose of vaccine 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 shops to provide FFP masks for 75 euro cents (62p). During the first year of the pandemic, FFP2s cost up to 10 euros (£8.35) – whenever they could be found.


Countries are updating mandate on face coverings (AP)

On Monday, Vatican City State mandated FFP2s in all indoor venues. The small walled independent state from central Rome to the Tiber also stipulated that Vatican workers after coming into contact with someone who tested positive could go to work without quarantine, if fully vaccinated or receiving a booster. Also, they wear FFP2s.

Francis appeared wearing the FFP2 as he left a music store near the Pantheon earlier this week, starting shoppers in Rome, before heading back to the Vatican.

Nino Cartabellota, president of the Bologna-based GIMBE Foundation, which oversees health care in Italy, said Britain’s position points to what can happen when measures such as wearing masks are not given importance.

“The situation in the UK showed that the use of vaccination alone was not sufficient”, he said, even though it was one of the first countries to introduce vaccination.