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HEALTH

Italy’s Lombardy, Liguria, and Piedmont regions ‘not ready to reopen’, new study warns

The northern Italian regions of Lombardy, Liguria, and Piedmont are not ready to safely remove travel restrictions on June 3rd, according to a new study by GIMBE, Italy's Group for Evidence-based Medicine.

Italy's Lombardy, Liguria, and Piedmont regions 'not ready to reopen', new study warns
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

“Our analysis on the post-reopening period, from May 4th, shows that Lombardy, Liguria, and Piedmont have the highest percentage of positive diagnostic swabs,”  the independent scientific foundation's head, Dr. Nino Cartabellotta, stated in a press release on Thursday.

“At the same time, these regions also have the greatest increase in new cases, and a limited aptitude to carry out diagnostic tests.”

The warning came as Italy's health minister, Roberto Speranza, prepared to evaluate data from the ISS, Italy's Higher Health Institute, on new infections ahead of a final decision on resuming travel to and within Italy in early June.

This is set to be the next stage of bringing the country out of lockdown, with most other rules eased throughout May. Italy had been almost completely shut down for nearly two months, with strict measures put in place aimed at controlling the spread of coronavirus in the country.

But on Thursday, Cartabellotta described the Italian government's provisional plan to re-allow travel between regions, as well as some international travel, from June 3rd as “risky”, and suggested that the government should keep restrictions in place “only in the three regions most at risk, perhaps allowing movement between them.”

Outside a hospital in Codogno, the town which was at the centre of the initial outbreak in Lombardy. Photo: AFP

Cartabellotta also questioned the data being released by the worst-hit region of Lombardy, claiming the regional authorities were “working some sleight of hand on the numbers.”

“Too many strange things have occurred in the last three months,” he said in an interview on Thursday's 24Mattino show on Italian Radio 24.

He said this included patients being counted as “recovered” in regional reports to the Civil Protection Department, and delays in the communication of data, “as if there was a need to keep the number of diagnosed cases below a certain level.”

The regional government responded by saying his words were “extremely serious, offensive and above all not in line with the truth.”

The region said its data was “published in a transparent way” and that “no one,  including the ISS, has ever called into question the quality of our work.”

READ ALSO: 

Lombardy is by far the worst-hit region in Italy, having suffered around half of the country's 33,000 officially recorded Covid-19 deaths.

Despite this, however, its regional government has long been pushing for businesses to reopen as soon as possible.

In an interview with The Local last week, Cartabellotta called the effectiveness of Italy's regionalized system of testing and data reporting into doubt, and accused the Italian government of putting economic interests “ahead of health protection” as it pushed ahead with reopening faster than previously planned.

 

 

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COVID-19

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”

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