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Italian regions accused of tampering with virus data ahead of reopening

One of Italy's top health experts has suggested Italy's regions may be fudging the infection data to avoid having to shut down again, sparking a furious row as the country prepares to restart travel from June 3rd.

Italian regions accused of tampering with virus data ahead of reopening
A medical worker conducts serological tests near Turin, in the northern Piedmont region. Photo: AFP

Meanwhile, a growing number of health experts in Italy have been warning of “inconsistencies” with health data released by regional governments during the reopening phase.

Lombardy, by far the worst-hit region, was singled out for criticism, but the region's government angrily denied the claims and threatened to sue.

“There is a reasonable suspicion that the regions are using tricks so they don't have to close again,” Dr. Nino Cartabellotta, head of the Fondazione GIMBE, Italy's group for evidence-based medicine, told Radio 24 on Thursday.

READ ALSO: Italy's LombardyLiguria, and Piedmont regions 'not ready to reopen', study warns

In Lombardy, he said there had been “too many strange things about the data over the past three months”, including people counted as cured when they were released from hospital even when they were still sick.

He said there had also been certain days when few tests were carried out, and delays in the communication of data.

“It's as if there was a kind of necessity to keep diagnosed numbers under a certain level,” Cartabellotta said.


Photo: AFP

The Lombardy region said the accusations were “very serious, offensive and above all do not correspond to the truth”.

On Friday, Italian newspaper La Stampa said “dozens” of virologists over the past weeks have been “denouncing inconsistencies in the data because it underestimates” the number of infection cases.

And infectious disease expert Luigi Toma told Il Messaggero on Friday there was “something not right about the tracing and monitoring” of the virus, “in Lombardy, but also Piedmont and Liguria”.

INTERVIEW: “Italy's reopenings put economic interests before health protection”

 

The World Health Organization's Italian government adviser Walter Ricciardi said there were “serious reasons to think the data is not reliable in some regions”.

It was “too soon to take a decision” on whether regions could reopen, he told the Repubblica newspaper on Friday, and Lombardy was a particular risk as it still had “20,000 people known to have the virus, as well asymptomatic cases”.

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.

READ ALSO: 

But Gimbe warned on Thursday that its data analysis showed it was not yet safe to lift travel restrictions on the northern regions of Lombardy, Liguria, and Piedmont, as a further loosening of rules is scheduled for June 3.

From that date, free movement between regions is set to be allowed for the first time in three months, and some foreign travellers will be allowed back into the country.

The government has said it will intervene to keep some regions closed if they are still considered a contagion risk.

Three regions in the south – Campania, Sardinia, and Sicily – have threatened to enforce quarantine on people arriving from northern regions, or to ban them from entering altogether.

According to official figures, more than 33,000 people have died of the virus in Italy – nearly 16,000 of them in Lombardy alone.

The region recorded 382 new cases on Thursday, out of a national total of 593.

Despite being by far the worst-affected region since the beginning of the crisis, Lombardy's government has long been pushing for businesses to reopen as soon as possible.

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

 

Nuns walk in a cemetary in Lombardy during the coronavirus crisis.  Photo: AFP

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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