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HEALTH

Italy trials drive-through coronavirus testing to ease pressure on hospitals

An Italian city at the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic is asking its highest-risk residents to undergo drive-through COVID-19 checks.

Italy trials drive-through coronavirus testing to ease pressure on hospitals

The northwestern city of Alessandria is holding a trial run of drive-thorugh testing on people from the relative safety of their cars, as the country desperately looks for ways to ease the enormous strain on its healthcare system.

Health workers in white protective suits and goggles walk up to drivers and gently insert a swab high up a person's nose.

The procedure is delicate and takes a few moments. Some drivers initially recoil at the shock.

“Don't move and everything will be fine,” one of the nurses says to a slightly alarmed-looking driver.
“You will have the results in a few days.”

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In the United States and South Korea, people queued for hours in their cars to get tested for the virus this way.

“In Korea, people volunteered to be tested, but here it works differently: those who need to be tested are called in,” the pop-up centre's nursing coordinator Calogero Volante told AFP.

“Only those who are summoned can come.”The city finds itself near the heart of the Italian outbreak, which that has officially infected 110,000 and killed more than 13,000 people.

The Piedmont region, which includes Alessandria, has recorded 886 deaths in the past month.

However, officials have cast doubt on the data and many think the real toll could be at least twice as high.

Italy entered a national lockdown three weeks ago that will run at least until mid-April in an effort to stop the spread.

But a range of people – from rubbish collectors and shop workers to police officers and care home staff – still risk their lives every day by showing up for work.

READ ALSO: 'We're stressed out': Supermarket workers in Italy fear exposure to coronavirus

 

Italy would like to see all of them tested, for their own safety and the safety of those they meet. But the overstretched country's resources are already limited. 

Officials in Alessandria figured that what worked in the United States and South Korea might work in Italy as well.

Italy's infection rates are slowing and hopes are rising high that the country has already seen the worst.

But officials are now thinking about how they are ever going to reopen the country without sparking a new wave of infections.

Comprehensive testing is almost certainly going to be part of any back-to-work scheme, and the drive-through project in Alessandria might eventually be reproduced across Italy – if it works.

“Here, we are able to test up to 60 people a day, testing every five minutes,” said Volante.

“It frees up human resources — and above all, the protective equipment.”

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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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