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HEALTH

New coronavirus case suspected in Italy

A third patient is in isolation at an Italian hospital after showing possible symptoms of the coronavirus, days after returning to Italy from China.

New coronavirus case suspected in Italy
Italians evacuated from eastern China are being kept in quarantine in Rome. Photo: Ansa/AFP

The person is one of 56 Italians nationals flown home earlier this week from Wuhan, the eastern Chinese city at the heart of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Since landing in Rome on Monday, the evacuees have been kept in precautionary quarantine at a military facility on the southern outskirts of the capital.

Doctors identified what could be symptoms of the respiratory illness in one member of the group and have transferred the individual to a specialized hospital for further tests, the Italian Health Ministry announced on Wednesday.

If confirmed, it would be the third known case of coronavirus in Italy.

READ ALSO: 

Two Chinese nationals on holiday in Italy were diagnosed with the virus last week and are being treated in isolation at the Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Rome, the same hospital where the third patient has been sent for tests.

The two known victims, a woman and man in their 60s, are said to be in serious but stable condition. They are receiving what the hospital described as “experimental” treatment with antiretroviral drugs typically used against HIV, but which have also shown signs of working against the new coronavirus.

The Italian government says it is also monitoring the situation aboard a cruise ship held in quarantine off Japan after at least 20 people aboard tested positive for the virus. Thirty-five Italians are on the Diamond Princess, ten of them passengers and another 25 crew, though so far none are believed to have the virus.

Meanwhile all passengers arriving at Italian airports, including from Europe or on domestic flights, are being systematically scanned for higher than normal temperatures. 


Scanning arrivals this week at Rome;s Fiumicino airport. Photo: Fiumicino Airport Press Office/AFP

All direct flights between Italy and China remain suspended after the Italian government declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus last week, making Italy the only country in Europe to cut off air travel entirely.

The Chinese government has accused other countries of “overreacting” by restricting flights, with a Foreign Ministry spokesperson pointing out that the World Health Organization does not recommend preventing travel.

The flight ban is expected to hit Italy's tourism industry, which serves around 3.5 million Chinese holidaymakers each year. 

“Fear of the virus risks costing Italian tourism at least 1.6 billion euros and more than 13 million visitors. And those are conservative estimates: if the panic continues, the toll could be even higher,” said Vittorio Messina, head of the Italian tourism federation Assoturismo Confesecenti, at a meeting with the Italian government on Wednesday.

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COVID-19 RULES

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

The new Italian government has announced the end of some remaining Covid health measures. Here's a look at what will - and won't - change.

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

Few Covid-related restrictions remain in Italy today, six months after the nationwide ‘state of emergency’ ended.

The previous government had kept only a handful of precautionary measures in place – which the new government, led by Giorgia Meloni, must now decide whether or not to keep.

The cabinet is holding a meeting on Monday and will issue a decree this week detailing any changes to the health measures.

Many expect the government to scrap all measures entirely by the end of the year, after Meloni and her party criticised the way Mario Draghi’s administration handled the pandemic throughout its tenure. 

Meloni clearly stated in her first address to parliament last Tuesday that “we will not replicate the model of the previous government” when it comes to managing Covid.

READ ALSO: Five key points from Meloni’s first speech as new Italian PM

While she acknowledged that Italy could be hit by another Covid wave, or another pandemic, she did not say how her government would deal with it.

Meanwhile, new health minister Orazio Schillaci issued a statement on Friday confirming the end of several existing measures, saying he “considers it appropriate to initiate a progressive return to normality in activities and behaviour”.

Workplace ban for unvaccinated medical staff

Schillaci confirmed that the ministry will allow doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to return to work after being suspended because they refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Those who refuse vaccination will be “reintegrated” into the workforce before the rule expires at the end of this year, as part of what the minister called a “gradual return to normality”.

They will be allowed to return “in light of the worrying shortage of medical and health personnel” and “considering the trend of Covid infections”, the statement said.

Fines issued to healthcare staff aged over 50 who refused vaccination would also be cancelled, it added.

There were some 1,579 doctors and dentists refusing vaccination at the end of October, representing 0.3 percent of all those registered with Italy’s National Federation of the Orders of Physicians, Surgeons and Dentists (Fnomceo) 

Daily Covid data reports

Schillaci also confirmed in the statement that the health ministry will no longer release daily updates on Covid-19 contagion rates, hospital cases and deaths, saying this would be replaced by a weekly update.

It said it would however make the data available at any time to relevant authorities.

Mask requirement in hospitals to stay?

The requirement to wear face masks in hospitals, care homes and other healthcare facilities expires on Monday, October 31st.

At a meeting on the same day the government is expected to decide whether to extend the measure.

READ ALSO: What can we expect from Italy’s new government?

While the government had looked at scrapping the requirement, it reportedly changed stance at the last minute on Monday after facing heavy criticism from health experts.

Media reports published while the meeting was in progress on Monday said government sources had indicated the measure would in fact be extended.

Confirmation is expected to come later on Monday.

Italy’s face mask rules in care homes and healthcare facilities are up for renewal. Photo by Thierry ZOCCOLAN / AFP

‘Green pass’ health certificate

There is no indication that the new government plans to bring back any requirements to show a ‘green pass’: the digital certificate proving vaccination against or recent recovery from Covid, or a negative test result.

The pass is currently only required for entry to healthcare facilities and care homes, and this is expected to remain the case.

‘Dismantling the measures’

Some of the confirmed changes were strongly criticised by Italy’s most prominent healthcare experts.

Head of the Gimbe association for evidence-based medicine, Nino Cartabellotta, said the focus on cancelling fines for unvaccinated healthcare workers was “irrelevant from a health point of view .. but unscientific and highly diseducative”.

He told news agency Ansa it was “absolutely legitimate” for a new government to discontinue the previous administration’s measures, but that this “must also be used to improve everything that the previous government was unable to do”.

The government should prioritise “more analytical collection of data on hospitalised patients, investments in ventilation systems for enclosed rooms … accelerating coverage with vaccine boosters,” he said.

However, the plan at the moment appeared to be “a mere dismantling of the measures in place,” he said, “in the illusory attempt to consign the pandemic to oblivion, ignoring the recommendations of the international public health authorities”.

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