Nearly 1.5 million people in Italy have coronavirus antibodies: study

Nearly 1.5 million people in Italy have probably developed coronavirus antibodies, according to a nationwide study, more than six times the number of people who tested positive for the new virus.

Nearly 1.5 million people in Italy have coronavirus antibodies: study
People gather outside the Pantheon in Rome. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Preliminary results from thousands of blood tests conducted across Italy in the past two months suggest that the number of people exposed to the coronavirus was far higher than the number of infections officially confirmed – 248,229 to date.

According to the Ministry of Health, 1.482 million people – the equivalent of 2.5 percent of the entire population of Italy – are believed to have coronavirus antibodies in their blood, which indicates that they have been exposed to the virus and had an immune response, but not whether they're safe from catching it again.

The findings are based on nearly 65,000 blood tests on a cross-section of Italian residents, carried out between late May and mid July by the Italian Red Cross on behalf of the Health Ministry and national statistics office Istat.

Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

More than a quarter of people found to have antibodies, 27.3 percent, never developed any symptoms of Covid-19, which the health ministry said emphasised the importance of following social distancing and hygiene rules to avoid spreading the virus unwittingly.

“The rate of 2.5 percent might seem low but it can become problematic if we're not cautious,” said Gian Carlo Blangiardo, president of Istat, as the researchers presented their first results on Monday.

“It means that the probability of encountering someone positive for the virus is 2.5; if I encounter 20 people, there's a 50 percent chance I'll come into contact with someone positive.”


The rate was significantly higher in parts of northern Italy, where most of Italy's coronavirus cases have been recorded.

In Lombardy, the northern region with the biggest number of infections by far, 7.5 percent of people tested had coronavirus antibodies – three times the national average. In the worst affected province of Bergamo, the rate was as high as 24 percent.

The highest regional rates were all in the north of Italy, while they were below the national average almost everywhere in the centre and especially the south. At the lowest end of the scale, the rate among residents of Sicily and Sardinia was just 0.3 percent.

Predictably, antibodies were more prevalent in health workers, 5.6 percent of whom showed signs of exposure. There was also an elevated rate among people working in restaurants, 4.1 percent. 

Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

The results showed that government containment measures and public caution had helped control the spread of coronavirus in Italy, said Health Minister Roberto Speranza. But “even if we're out of the storm, we're not yet at a safe port,” he added, urging Italians not to let down their guard.

Having antibodies in your blood does not necessarily mean that you're immune to coronavirus. It's not yet known whether people with antibodies can catch the virus again, or how soon. 

The researchers carried out 64,660 blood tests between May 25th and July 15th. Participants came from a sample of 150,000 people across 2,000 municipalities and a range of ages and professions who were originally invited to take part. All of those selected lived with other members of their family, i.e. not alone, with housemates or in nursing homes.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


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.”