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‘Phase two’: Italian PM set to unveil lockdown exit strategy this week

Italy's prime minister is expected to announce details this week of the steps the country will take to gradually loosen restrictions, reopen the economy and emerge from the coronavirus lockdown.

'Phase two': Italian PM set to unveil lockdown exit strategy this week
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Photo: Fabio Frustraci/ANSA/AFP

Italy, which has declared more coronavirus deaths than any other European country, enforced under national quarantine on March 10th, with some badly-hit northern regions imposing shutdowns even earlier.

The lockdown period, which has since been extended twice, is due to expire on May 3.

READ ALSO: When will it be possible to travel to Italy again?

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is caught between trying to avoid a renewed spike in infections while avoiding additional damage to the economy.

The virus has so far killed over 24,000 people in Italy.

“I would like to be able to say, let's open everything. Right away,” Conte wrote on Facebook. “But such a decision would be irresponsible.”

Photo: AFP

“It would make the contagion curve rise uncontrollably and would jeopardise all the efforts that we've made until now.”

He laid out the difficulties of the so-called 'Phase 2' in reopening the economy, saying a plan would be laid out “before the end of this week. 

“A reasonable expectation is that we will apply it from May 4.”

“We have to reopen on the basis of policy that takes into consideration all the details and cuts across all the data. A serious policy, scientific,” Conte wrote.

In an example, he cited how, in allowing businesses to reopen, officials needed to consider how workers would get to and from work without causing crowds and triggering a new wave of contagion.

Conte said the plan would be national but would take into account regional differences.

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Some in southern Italy have complained about the fact that they are subject to the same lockdown conditions as the north, despite far fewer coronavirus cases and lower population density in many areas.

But officials fear that lifting restrictions could trigger an outbreak in the south, placing dangerous strain on underfunded hospitals.

But Conte's government is facing growing pressure from business and opposition politicians who say Italy must now get back to work.

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

Conte earlier this month charged a task force made up of economists, lawyers, sociologists and other experts with studying the post-lockdown measures needed to restart the economy while protecting worker health.

The prime minister has so far struck a cautious note when asked about reopening, repeatedly warning that expert medical advice must be followed.

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MONKEYPOX

Semen ‘a vehicle’ for monkeypox infection, say Italian health experts

Researchers in Italy who were first to identify the presence of monkeypox in semen are broadening their testing, saying early results suggest sperm can transmit infection.

Semen 'a vehicle' for monkeypox infection, say Italian health experts

A team at Rome’s Spallanzani Hospital, which specialises in infectious diseases, revealed in a study published on June 2nd that the virus DNA was detected in semen of three out of four men diagnosed with monkeypox.

They have since expanded their work, according to director Francesco Vaia, who said researchers have found the presence of monkeypox in the sperm of 14 infected men out of 16 studied.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How is Italy dealing with rising monkeypox cases?

“This finding tells us that the presence of the virus in sperm is not a rare or random occurrence,” Vaia told AFP in an interview.

He added: “The infection can be transmitted during sexual intercourse by direct contact with skin lesions, but our study shows that semen can also be a vehicle for infection.”

Researchers at Spallanzani identified Italy’s first cases of monkeypox, found in two men who had recently returned from the Canary Islands.

The latest results reported by Vaia have not yet been published or subject to peer review.

Since early May, a surge of monkeypox cases has been detected outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic. Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.

More than 3,400 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the World Health Organisation from more than 50 countries this year.

The vast majority of cases so far have been observed in men who have sex with men, of young age, chiefly in urban areas, in “clustered social and sexual networks”, according to the WHO.

It is investigating cases of semen testing positive for monkeypox, but has maintained the virus is primarily spread through close contact.

Meg Doherty, director of the WHO’s global HIV, hepatitis and sexually-transmitted infection programmes, said last week: “We are not calling this a sexually-transmitted infection.”

Could antivirals curb the spread of monkeypox?

Spallanzani researchers are now trying to ascertain how long the virus is present in sperm after the onset of symptoms.

In one patient, virus DNA was detected three weeks after symptoms first appeared, even after lesions had disappeared – a phenomenon Vaia said had been seen in the past in viral infections such as Zika.

That could indicate that the risk of transmission of monkeypox could be lowered by the use of condoms in the weeks after recovery, he said.

The Spallanzani team is also looking at vaginal secretions to study the presence of the virus.

A significant finding from the first study was that when the virus was cultured in the lab, it was “present in semen as a live, infectious virus efficient in reproducing itself”, Vaia told AFP.

Vaia cautioned that there remained many unanswered questions on monkeypox, including whether antiviral therapies could shorten the time in which people with the virus could infect others.

Another is whether the smallpox vaccine could protect people from the monkeypox virus.

“To study this we will analyse people who were vaccinated 40 years ago before human smallpox was declared to have disappeared,” Vaia said.

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