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HEALTH

Which Italian regions will be first to beat the coronavirus?

While some regions of Italy could contain the coronavirus outbreak as soon as this week, others will have to wait until June before halting new cases, health experts estimate.

Which Italian regions will be first to beat the coronavirus?
People in Rome during Italy's Covid-19 lockdown. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

The first regions to halt infections will be Basilicata in the south and Umbria in central Italy, according to a new report by the National Observatory on Health Status in the Italian Regions.

By analysing Italy's official Covid-19 figures over the past month, the observatory predicts that if current trends continue both regions could reach zero new cases by Tuesday, April 21st.

Yet for the regions of Lombardy and Marche, new cases aren't likely to stop growing until at least the end of June, it says.

READ ALSO: When will Italy's lockdown 'phase two' begin and what will it involve?

The analysis comes as the Italian government deliberates which of Italy's lockdown measures – if any – should be lifted when the current restrictions expire on May 4th.

While some regions are calling for business to resume after six weeks of near-total suspension and a pronounced decline in new cases, many fear that moving to a less severe 'Phase Two' of the lockdown too early could reverse hard-won progress.

“The projections show that the epidemic is lessening very slowly, therefore this data suggests that the transition to the so-called 'Phase Two' should take place gradually and at different times in different regions,” the health observatory says.

READ ALSO: 

It based its predictions on figures from February 24th to April 17th, when Italy's nationwide lockdown was in full force – so if the restrictions are eased, the projected end dates are likely to be pushed back, it warns.

The dates in its report shouldn't be taken as the day when regions will reach zero new cases, the experts say, but as the earliest point they might do so. Infections are very unlikely to halt before then, they predict.

Here, in order, is when they project new cases could end in each of Italy's 20 regions:

  • Basilicata: April 21st
  • Umbria: April 21st
  • Molise: April 26th
  • Sardinia: April 29th
  • Sicily: April 30th
  • Calabria: May 1st
  • Puglia: May 7th
  • Abruzzo: May 7th
  • Campania: May 9th
  • Lazio: May 12th
  • Valle d'Aosta: May 13th
  • Liguria: May 14th
  • Province of Trento (Alto Adige/South Tyrol): May 16th
  • Friuli Venezia Giulia: May 19th
  • Veneto: May 21st
  • Piedmont: May 21st
  • Province of Bolzano (Alto Adige/South Tyrol): May 26th
  • Emilia Romagna: May 29th
  • Tuscany: May 30th
  • Marche: June 27th
  • Lombardy: June 28th

The daily increase in new cases is already in single figures in Basilicata and Umbria, which saw cases rise by just three and four respectively between April 18-19th.

Molise, Valle d'Aosta, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Sardinia reported fewer than 20 new cases each over the same period.

Meanwhile cases in Lombardy, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy, continues to report hundreds of new cases each day, including 855 in the latest 24-hour update.

The neighbouring north-west region of Piedmont had the next highest daily increase, with 593.

However, as the health observatory points out, the figures available probably don't reflect the true number of coronavirus cases in Italy since testing policies vary by region, and many people with mild or no symptoms may never be diagnosed.

READ ALSO: What's the problem with Italy's official coronavirus numbers?


A map showing the distribution of cases according to the official April 19th figures from Italy's Civil Protection department.

Lombardy, home to Italy's business capital Milan and the heartland of Italian industry, has been under quarantine measures for longer than any other region. 

Its regional president, Attilio Fontana of the right-wing populist League party, has called for businesses all over Italy to restart from May 4th. 

While he was backed by the president of Veneto, fellow League member Luca Zaia, other officials have called the idea premature as health experts continue to urge caution.

READ ALSO: Lombardy's governor pushes for Italian businesses to reopen

Meanwhile regions in the south of Italy, which feared people returning from work or study in the north would bring the virus with them and place dangerous strain on underfunded hospitals, remain wary of allowing travel within Italy to resume.

While the south appears to have avoided serious contagion so far, governor of Campania Vincenzo De Luca warned on Friday that he would consider closing his region's borders to people from the north should Lombardy or others lift stay-at-home orders.

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ENVIRONMENT

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy

The northern cities of Milan and Turin were named Italy's 'smog capitals' in a new pollution report on Monday which urged the government to take action over poor air quality.

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy
Photo: Pixabay

Smog and pollution are choking Italian cities year-round and many towns are exceeding limits on fine particles and other pollution, according to another report from Italian environmental watchdog Legambiente.

The Mal’aria di città (Air pollution in the city) report for 2023, unveiled on Monday, was the latest to warn about the risks to health posed by pollution in many parts of the country.

It found that 25 of 95 cities monitored had violated clean air ordinances by exceeding daily fine particle (PM10) emission limits, which are currently set at no more than 35 days a year with a daily average of over 50 micrograms per cubic metre.

Turin was ranked as the worst offender, exceeding this level on 90 days, closely followed by Milan (84), Asti (79), Modena (75), and Padua and Venice at 70.

These were followed by Cremona, Treviso, Mantua and Rovigo, all of which exceeded limits to a lesser degree.

All of the most polluted cities were in the northern Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto, with most within the north-western ‘industrial triangle’.

Some southern cities featured nearer the bottom of the ranking, with Andria (Puglia) and Ragusa (Sicily) exceeding limits on several days, as well as Rome, which overshot the permitted level for one day.

(Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The average annual rate of PM10 emissions nationwide dropped slightly, by two percent year-on-year, the report found.

“This, however, is not enough to guarantee the health of citizens,” said Stefano Ciafani, president of Legambiente.

He pointed out that the situation looked even worse if air quality in Italian cities were measured against tighter limits under the new European Directive on air quality, in force from 2030, which lowers the PM10 threshold from 35 to 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

“Only 23 out of 96 cities (24 percent) would be under these limits,” Ciafani said, while 84 percent would exceed the threshold for PM2.5 and 61 percent for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Italy has repeatedly been reprimanded by the European Union over air quality, and has “persistently and systematically” breached EU recommended limits, the European Court of Justice ruled in 2020.

The north of Italy has long been ranked among the worst areas in Europe for polluted air according to data from the European Environment Agency.

“Air pollution is not only an environmental problem, but also a health problem of great importance,” said Ciafani. “In Europe, it’s the main cause of premature death due to environmental factors.”

“Italy has more than 52,000 deaths per year caused by PM2.5 emissions, equal to a fifth of those recorded throughout the continent,” he said.

The main causes of air pollution in Italian cities are reported to be industry, inefficient domestic heating systems, agricultural practices and, most of all, heavy traffic.

In Italy, cars continue to be by far the most-used means of transport. 65.3 percent of journeys overall are made by car, Legambiante wrote, with the emissions from some 38 million cars choking Italy’s towns and cities.

(Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

Legambiente said “drastic” measures were required to tackle the problem, including funds for more efficient heating systems in homes and public buildings and a major increase in public transport provision.

The group said Italy must “quadruple the availability of public transit, promoting integrated season tickets as done by Germany in 2022”, triple the number of electric buses, create zero-emission zones in town centres, and “create another 16,000 kilometres of cycle paths”.

It also praised local authorities choosing to bring in 30 km/h speed limits in city centres. Councils in Bologna, Turin, Milan and Cesena have all said they plan to implement these limits, following the lead of European cities including Paris and Madrid, despite fierce criticism from Italian transport minister Matteo Salvini.

Legambiente published a petition urging the government to make clean air and more livable cities a priority, saying Italy should follow Paris in attempting to create ’15-minute cities’, in which everyone lives within a quarter of an hour’s walk of vital amenities such as shops and schools and possibly also workplaces.