Italian town shuts down after six cases of coronavirus confirmed

Bars, schools and offices in a small northern Italian town are closing for up to five days to try to quell fears after six cases of the coronavirus were confirmed and more were suspected.

Italian town shuts down after six cases of coronavirus confirmed
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Six people have tested positive for the virus in the town of Codogno, which has a population of 15,000, some 60 kilomtres from Milan in the region of Lombardy.

Three of those have fallen ill – including the most serious, a 38-year-old man in intensive care – while the other three tested positive in a first test and are awaiting results of a second.

There are unconfirmed reports in Italian media that up to 14 people in total have tested positive for the virus in Lombardy, and two further cases in the Veneto region. Six cases remain confirmed by authorities at the time of writing.

READ ALSO: Six people test positive for the coronavirus in northern Italy

Codogno Mayor Francesco Passerini issued a decree on Friday ordering the immediate closure of schools, municipal offices, stores selling food, bars, discos, and sports facilities.

About 80 venues will be affected. The order could last between 48 hours to five days.

Local authorities have advised residents to stay at home and avoid social activities as a precaution.

Discovery of the cases “has created a situation of alarm throughout the municipality,” Passerini said.

It has not been confirmed by health authorities how transmission of the virus occurred, however it appears from initial reports to be the first human-to-human transmission of the virus in Italy.

The man in intensive care dined earlier this month with another man who had visited China in January. He exhibited flu-like symptoms at the time of the dinner, but has since tested negative for the virus, media reports said.

The pregnant wife of the man in intensive care and a friend of his with whom he played sports are the other two confirmed cases.

Around 250 people are now reportedly being tested for the virus in the area, italian media reports.

READ ALSO: How concerned should you be about the coronavirus in Italy?

The six patients in Lombardy bring the total number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Italy to nine.

Two Chinese tourists, from the virus epicentre of Wuhan, tested positive in central Rome in late January, and one Italian who returned from the Chinese city on a special evacuation flight repatriating 56 Italian nationals also tested positive for the virus a week later.

According to the WHO, more than 80 percent of patients infected with the virus have mild disease and recover, while 14 percent have severe diseases such as pneumonia. 

Around five percent of cases are considered critical.

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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].”