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Italy tightens measures amid Omicron surge

Rome, Jan 6 (IANS) Italy has further tightened anti-coronavirus measures, mainly making vaccination mandatory for people aged 50 and above, in an effort to curb surging cases fuelled by the Omicron variant.

For non-working people, the latest measures will enter into force immediately after being published in the country's official gazette, and for public and private workers, the enforcement will start from February 15, reports Xinhua news agency.

The measures are valid until June 15.

The new package was unanimously approved by Prime Minister Mario Draghi's cabinet and came only days after the introduction of more relaxed quarantine rules for vaccinated people and tighter restrictions for unvaccinated people.

Vaccination has so far been mandatory for some categories of workers, namely health care and school staff, police forces and military.

University staff of all ages is the latest addition to the mandatory vaccination list.

Not all parties in the government coalition agreed to the strict line, which has affected unvaccinated workers currently allowed to enter their workplace by only showing a negative test within 48 hours.

Among other rules, a "normal" green pass -- proof of vaccination, recovery, and a negative test -- would be required to enter public space like offices, banks, post offices, and non-essential shops.

The tightening came as Italy registers a new spike in Covid-19 infections mainly driven by the rampant spread of the Omicron variant.

Over 189,000 new cases were registered on Wednesday, setting a new daily record in the country, according to the Health Ministry.

Record high numbers have been registered since December 30, and were well above the threshold of 100,000 daily cases.

As some 86.1 per cent of Italy's population aged above 12 has been fully immunized and over 21 million people received the booster shot, the numbers of severe Covid-19 conditions have been contained so far.

Yet, bed occupancy rates for infected patients in both normal wards and intensive care units are increasing, with some regions almost reaching the national emergency thresholds.

In addition, admission to hospitals for infected children under 18 grew by an estimated 86 percent between December 28 and January 4, according to a report issued by the Italian Federation of Healthcare and Hospitals.

The report was based on a survey of 21 healthcare facilities across the country, the federation said.

In order to keep the new pandemic wave under control, four more regions moved from the white zone to the yellow zone on Monday, entailing higher levels of restrictions.

In the four-tiered system implemented in Italy since late 2020, the white zone indicates a low risk of virus transmission and the yellow zone a low-intermediate or moderate risk; the orange and red zones indicate medium and high risks respectively.