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Italy tightens COVID restrictions for 5 regions amid warnings of a growing prevalence of variants

Italy on Saturday announced it was tightening restrictions in five of the country's 20 regions in an effort curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Driving the news: The announcement comes as health experts and scientists warn of the more transmissible coronavirus variants, per Reuters.

The state of play: For the first time since late January, two regions — Basilicata and Molise — have been placed in the country's red-zone, the strictest tier of Italy's color-coded system.

  • All bars, restaurants and non-essential businesses must close and movement will be severely limited.
  • The tiers (white, yellow, orange and red) are based on infection levels and other factors.
  • In Lombardy, Marche and Piedmont, which were moved from the yellow to the orange zone, restaurants and bars must close except for carry-out. Residents are also not allowed to leave their towns except for emergencies or health and work reasons.
  • Yes, but: The island of Sardinia became the first region to move to the minimally restrictive white zone, according to Reuters.

What they're saying: “Many outbreaks are due to the (new) variants. I am concerned about the progress of the epidemic," said Gianni Rezza, a senior health ministry adviser, per Reuters.

  • "We must keep up our guard and we must intervene promptly and strongly where needed,” Rezza added.

The big picture: Earlier this week, the country extended a ban on non-essential travel between the regions through at least March 27, per Reuters.

  • Italy began its inoculation campaign last year, and has so far administered more than 4.2 million doses of the vaccine. More than 1.3 million people have been fully vaccinated.
  • According to health ministry data, the country recorded 20,499new COVID-19 cases on Friday, up from 19,886 the day before.
  • More than 2.9 million cases and 97,500 deaths have been reported in Italy since the pandemic began.

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