ROME — (TNS) Italian health authorities logged about 44,600 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the highest level recorded since the pandemic struck the country.

The previous record had been just under 41,000 cases, on Nov. 13, 2020.

Officials also recorded 170 deaths due to the virus. 

But there were many more tests performed in the days leading up to the Christmas holiday, with the ministry reported 900,000 on Thursday, with the number of positive results ranging from 3.6% and 4.9%.

Italy has implemented rules requiring people who are neither vaccinated against or recovered from the disease to provide proof of a negative test to do things like use public transport. The negative tests are also needed for access to places like museums.

The country’s highest health agency, the ISS, says its initial estimates point to 28% of all new cases in the country being due to the new omicron variant. It noted that cases are rising quickly and that omicron is likely to soon be the dominant strain in Italy.

Responding to the health threat, the country announced a series of updated health rules to keep the disease’s spread under control.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said that, starting Feb. 1, proof of vaccination would only be recognized for six months after the jab, instead of the current nine. People in Italy need the proof of vaccination for everything from using public transportation to getting into museums.

Booster shots will be recognized for only four months, instead of five.

Face coverings will be required when people are outside, and higher-grade FFP2 masks will be required when in public transportation, cinemas, theaters or football stadiums. Sales of food will also be banned in such locations.

Additionally, starting Jan. 31, proof of a negative test will not be sufficient to gain entry to museums. People will need up-to-date proof of vaccination against or recovery from COVID-19.

Entry to senior homes will also be tightened and controls checking people’s coronavirus status when entering the country will be tightened.