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HEALTH

Milan announces major expansion of cycle paths after lockdown

Milan hopes to emerge from lockdown with cleaner and greener transport options in place, as the city announced an expansion of bike and pedestrian paths to protect commuters from infection risk and stop a spike in car use as lockdown is eased.

Milan announces major expansion of cycle paths after lockdown
Cyclists working for a food delivery company ride through the empty square in front of Milan's Duomo. Photo: AFP

Local authorities announced on Tuesday that 35 kilometres (22 miles) of city streets will be made more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists in the coming months, as it begins a major project to transform roads in the city centre.

The ambitious Strade Aperte (Open Streets) plan aims to reallocate street space from cars to pedestrians and cyclists, making it safer and easier for people to leave their vehicles at home once lockdown is lifted.

READ ALSO: Italian PM set to unveil lockdown 'phase two' plans this week

It will include temporary cycle lanes, new, widened pavements, pedestrian and cyclist priority streets, and reduced speed limits in the city centre, officials said.

Under the planned “phase two” of Italy's lockdown, businesses are expected to start gradually reopening from May onwards.

But there are concerns about the virus being transmitted in crowds on public transport as people get back to work, particularly in compact and densely-populated Milan.

Milan transport authorities say metro services in the city will run at 30 percent capacity in order to allow social distancing.

This means that, instead of transporting the usual 1.4 million passengers per day, the Milan metro will only be able to carry 400 thousand people daily.

The fear is that this could result in a spike in car traffic.

A near-empty metro carriage in Milan on April 9th. Photo: AFP

“We cannot think of this meaning a million more cars on the road,” Milan transport councillor Marco Granelli told Radio Lombardy on Tuesday.

“To avoid this, we will have to strengthen two-wheeled transport. This is why we're putting in place an extraordinary plan to create new cycle paths,” he said.

Milan city hall is “preparing documents and plans to add about 35 kilomtres of new cycle routes to the little more than 200 already existing,” he said.

Work on the project is expected to begin as soon as May on the usually busy Corso Buenos Aires, and will continue over the summer, he explained.

it is hoped that Milan's scheme will be used as a roadmap for other cities in Italy, and around the world.

The economic capital of Italy, Milan is also one of the most heavily polluted parts of the country. Huge swathes of northern Italy have long suffered serious problems with air pollution.

 
In Italy, cars remain by far the most-used means of transport. 65.3 percent of all journeys are made by car, according to environmental group Legambiante, with the emissions from some 38 million cars choking Italy's towns and cities before the nationwide lockdown began.
 
Italy has repeatedly been reprimanded by the European Union for regularly exceeding the bloc's recommended limits on air pollution.
 
Many towns and cities struggle wth congestion and pollution as public transport provision and cycle lanes remain inadequate.

READ ALSO: 

Air pollution has long been a serious concern among Milan's residents, and international studies are now trying to ascertain whether there's a link between air pollution and high Covid-19 mortality rates seen around Milan.

Lombardy, the region of which Milan is the capital, is the part of Italy by far most seriously affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

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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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