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ANALYSIS: When will the coronavirus epidemic in Italy peak?

The world is watching Italy to see when the number of deaths from COVID-19 and infections peak - and whether its nationwide coronavirus lockdown measures work.

ANALYSIS: When will the coronavirus epidemic in Italy peak?
A photo shows patients' beds at the new COVID 3 level intensive care unit for coronavirus COVID-19 cases, on March 18, 2020 at the Casal Palocco hospital near Rome, that is to open later in the day.AF

But experts with the theoretical and medical background needed to make sense of these numbers are cautious about making forecasts.

Italian data, rising nationwide by hundreds of deaths and thousands of infections every day, vary depending on the region, and a whole range of different factors are at play.

Experts say that predictions are difficult — and even useless if they look too far ahead. 

March 23 to March 25 

A team of infectious diseases and computer experts at the University of Genoa says it has a drawn up a model that predicts the evolution of COVID-19 “with an acceptable margin of error”.

This model shows that in terms of new daily infections, the cases will peak between March 23-25.

What happens after that will depend largely on Italian government policies, and how Italians themselves behave.

READ ALSO: 'Stay at home': Italy's new coronavirus quarantine rules explained

Announcing an effective nationwide lockdown on March 11, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told Italians that the measures would take about two weeks to work.

The lockdown is due to expire on March 25, although schools and public institutions are set to remain closed until at least April 3.

“Reaching the peak doesn't mean you're in the clear,” University of Genoa professor Giorgio Sestili cautioned.

“It only means that the epidemic has started to slow down and that – a few days later – you will have reached the saturation point of intensive care cases.”

Sestili pointed that there will also be “imbalances” between Italy's 22 regions, with not every one reaching a peak at the same time.

AFP

March 25 to April 15

Italy's National Research Council (CNR) expects a “significant reduction” in the growth rate of new infections in the Lombardy region around Milan by next Tuesday or Wednesday.

The northern region of around 10 million people has been at the epicentre of the crisis since the start, reporting two thirds of all the deaths in the nation of 60 million.

It has been under lockdown since March 8.

Noting that infections are starting to rise in the south, where many Italians moved to after the start of containment measures in the north, the CNR predicts that figures across Italy will only stabilise between March 25 and April 15.

READ ALSO: 'Hospitals are overwhelmed': Italian doctors describe their struggle to treat Lombardy's coronavirus patients

“These estimates are subject to great uncertainty because various factors are at play, and must constantly be recalibrated according to the latest available data,” CNR said in a statement.

It noted that people's behaviour changes, depending on what government measures are passed.

“It is very important to continue with containment measures, and to avoid the emergence of outbreak in central Italy and the south,” Sestili told the Avvenire daily.

'Spots on a leopard' 

Some simply scoff at the idea of making national forecasts, stressing that COVID-19 hit different regions at different times – and that some of the first containment measures were only imposed locally.

“Talking about a peak at a national level simply makes no sense,” said Giovanni Rezza, who heads the infectious diseases department at Italian National Institute of Health (ISS).

“It is impossible to make forecasts because the epidemic is appearing like spots on a leopard,” in places and not all at once, Rezza told Italian radio.

READ ALSO:

He said the worst was over in the province of Lodi, where the virus first appeared to the southeast of Milan, while in Brescia and Bergamo to Milan's east the situation was getting progressively worse.

Pierluigi Lopalco, an epidemiologist at the University of Pisa, was equally cautious.

“The forecasting models for COVID-19 are like weather forecasts,” Lopalco said on Twitter.

“They are good for 24 hours, they are alright for the next 48 hours, but they are no longer reliable for the next 72 hours.”

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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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