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Italy orders all schools and universities to close as coronavirus death toll passes 100

The Italian government ordered the closure of all schools and universities in the country over the novel coronavirus on Wednesday as new figures showed the death toll had passed 100.

Italy orders all schools and universities to close as coronavirus death toll passes 100
An information sign advises residents of coronavirus measures in a town in the nothern Italian region of Lombardy, the worst-affected part of Italy. Photo: AFP

The Italian government confirmed that Italy's schools and universities would close on Thursday until at least March 15 as a precaution amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The government decision was announced moments after health officials said the death toll from COVID-19 had jumped to 107 and the number of cases had passed 3,000.

(These numbers are changing constantly: view the latest figures here.)

28 more people have died in the past 24 hours, bringing the toll to 107 – the highest number of fatalities outside China – while the number of cases reached 3,089 as of Wednesday evening.

 
This is the total number of people in Italy confirmed to have contracted the virus since the beginning of the outbreak, including the deceased and around 300 recovered patients.
 
The blanket school closure was decided on Wednesday as top government ministers met to agree new measures to combat the spread of the virus.
 
“We are focused on taking all measures for direct containment or delaying the spread of the virus,” said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
 
“The health system risks going into overload and we will have a problem with intensive care if an exponential crisis continues.”
 
Other measures being brought in include an unpopular plan to play all Serie A football matches without fans until April 3.
 
Schools were already closed this week in the northern regions worst hit by the emergency: Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna, and in some other municipalities around the country.
 
The government's other measures included an unpopular month-long nationwide ban on fan attendance at football matches and other major sporting events.
 
The Italian government on Wednesday also issued new guidance aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.

Rules in place for the next 30 days include no hugging or handshakes, and over-75s are advised to stay at home.

MAP: Which parts of Italy are affected by coronavirus outbreak?

On Wednesday, Reuters reported that a draft of the new emergency decree also contained a ban on public events across the whole country and provisions for the closure of all cinemas and theatres.

Numerous events have already been cancelled (CLICK HERE for full list) and sporting events will take place behind closed doors for the next few weeks at least.

Most cases are still concentrated in the “yellow zone” regions of Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia Romagna, but all but one of Italy's 20 regions have now reported cases of the virus.

The overwhelming majority of the fatalities have occurred in Milan's Lombardy region as well as Emilia Romagna and Veneto.

Infections are slowly reaching Italy's less wealthy and developed south.

The government reported the first death south of Rome on Wednesday. It came in the Puglia region that surrounds the city of Bari in the heel of the Italian boot on the map.

A top civil protection official told AFP that most of those who have died in the past few days were in their 80s and 90s and were already suffering from other pathologies.

Top government minister spent hours huddling Wednesday to chart a way out of a health crisis that threatens to tip Italy's wheezing economy into recession and overwhelm hospitals.

Most of the steps being considered involve ways to avoid crowds and keep people from coming in contact with each other outdoors.

All these measures are meant to stay in place for a month and be reviewed and possibly fine-tuned after two weeks.

 
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COVID-19

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].”

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