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LATEST: Number of coronavirus deaths in Italy rises to 12 as confirmed cases reach 400

The number of coronavirus deaths in Italy continued to creep up on Wednesday with the twelfth victim confirmed. The EU has urged people not to panic.

LATEST: Number of coronavirus deaths in Italy rises to 12 as confirmed cases reach 400
Photo: AFP

Italy's 12 death occurred in the central Emilia-Romagna region. The victim was a 70-year-old man from Lombardy, the region most affected by the recent surge in the number of coronavirus cases.

All 12 of those who have died so far in Italy were either elderly or had pre-existing medical conditions.

On Wednesday the EU stressed that the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Europe is concerning but no reason for alarm.
 
“This is a situation of concern but we must not give in to panic,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told reporters in Rome after meeting Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza.
 
“We must also be vigilant when it comes to misinformation and disinformation as well as xenophobic statements which are misleading citizens and putting in question the work of public authorities,” she added.

Meanwhile Italy's European neighbours have pledged to keep borders despite the new coronavirus spreading down the country to Tuscany and Sicily and a surge in the number of infected people.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has blamed poor management in a hospital in the country's north for the outbreak.

All 12 of those who have died so far in Italy were either elderly or had pre-existing medical conditions.

But health ministers from Italy's neighbours — meeting in Rome along with the EU's health commissioner — pledged to keep the frontiers open Tuesday. 

They said closing borders would be a “disproportionate and ineffective” measure, even as numbers of infections continue to rise. 

“We're talking about a virus that doesn't respect borders,” said Italy's Health Minister Roberto Speranza.

READ ALSO – MAP: The parts of Italy most affected by coronavirus

His Germany counterpart, Jens Spahn, who was also at the Rome meeting, said they were “taking the situation very, very seriously.

“The coronavirus has reached Europe for the first time in a situation where we don't understand every chain of infection and they can't be connected directly to China.

“This means we have a new situation to deal with. I have said it could get worse before it gets better and this assessment still stands,” he added.

Tuscany reported its first two cases, including one in the tourist destination of Florence, while three emerged in Sicily — including a husband and wife from the worst-hit Lombardy region, where 240 people have tested  positive.

The Liguria region, known as the Italian Riviera, also reported its first case.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy seen a surge in the number of coronavirus cases?

'Rigorous'

Hundreds of people were confined to their rooms in a Tenerife hotel in Spain after an Italian tourist was hospitalised with suspected coronavirus, health officials in the Canary Islands said.

Croatia confirmed the first case in the Balkans region after a young man recently returned from Italy — which lies across the Adriatic from Croatia — was found to have become infected.

Austria also saw its first two cases confirmed on Tuesday in the Tyrol province, which borders Italy.

One was an Italian receptionist working at a hotel in the Alpine city of Innsbruck, which was consequently put under lockdown.

One of the two patients is from Lombardy. Switzerland also reported its first case. 

While borders remain open, several governments have announced additional measures for incoming travellers, in particular from the two northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto.

They range from medical screening to special gates at airports and recommendations to self-isolate.

Conte insisted however that Italy's health protocols were “among the most rigorous.” 

'Mission Impossible'

Wide-ranging measures to halt the spread of the virus have affected tens of thousands of people in the north of Italy, with schools closed and cultural and sporting events cancelled.

Several upcoming football matches in Italian Serie A and the Europa League will be played behind closed doors.

Production of the latest “Mission: Impossible” film starring Tom Cruise in Venice has also been stopped.

The main centre of infection in Italy has been the town of Codogno, a town of some 15,000 people around 60 kilometres (35 miles) to the south of Milan.

Codogno and several other towns in northern Italy have been put under isolation.

The 38-year-old man dubbed “Patient One” by Italian media was admitted to hospital last Wednesday in Codogno, and it is thought a large number of the cases in the worst-hit region of Lombardy can be traced back to him.

His heavily pregnant wife, several doctors, staff and patients at the hospital are thought to have caught the virus from him.

Elsewhere in the country officials have also been recommending precautionary measures, even in areas without known infections.

In Calabria in the south, bishops have asked their worshippers not to make the sign of peace during mass, media reported.

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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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