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HEALTH

Coronavirus: Italian PM vows to reopen schools in September

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Sunday that schools will only reopen in September but many businesses will resume as early as next week as the country emerges from a near-total coronavirus shutdown.

Coronavirus: Italian PM vows to reopen schools in September
Photo: STRINGER / ANSA / AFP

Conte told La Repubblica newspaper that he will spell out the full details of how Italy will ease its way out of the world's longest active coronavirus lockdown by the start of next week.

He has reportedly been presented with a cautious proposal that involves a gradual lifting of restrictions over the course of May.

Italy's official death toll of 26,384 is Europe's highest and only second globally to the United States.

But its number of cases has been ebbing and Italy believes its contagion rate — reported at between 0.2 and 0.7 — is low enough below the key threshold of 1.0 to try and get back to work.

“We cannot continue beyond this lockdown — we risk damaging the country's socioeconomic fabric too much,” Conte told La Repubblica. 

'Very high risk'

Italy gradually closed everything over the first half March as it became increasingly clear that an initial batch of cases in northern areas around Milan was spreading.

Scientists now believe that Italy's infections probably began in January — if not earlier — and that the virus was running rampant by the time the first official COVID-19 death was recorded on February 21.

But Italy's health care system held the line and Conte now appears to feel safe enough to focus on mending an economy that his team expects to shrink by eight percent this year.

Conte said his government will “allow a large number of companies” to restart on May 4.

Italy's schools were closed before most other businesses and will now be one of the last to reopen.

He said the return to school was filled with peril because many teachers were older and at greater risk of catching the virus.

“Schools are at the centre of our attention and will reopen in September,” the premier said.

Conte explained that resuming tuition before then involved “a very high risk of contagion”. 

'Greater freedom'

Many Italians are most concerned about when they will finally be able to walk in parks and jog without being stopped and fined by the police.

Italy's stay-at-home orders were announced nationally on March 9 and require everyone to stay within about a block of their front door.

Many have turned their roofs into improvised gyms and even tennis courts in a collective effort to avoid going stir crazy.

“We are not yet in a position to restore full freedom of movement, but we are studying a relaxation of the current, strict regime,” Conte said.

“We will make sure to allow greater freedom of movement while maintaining our guarantee to prevent and contain contagion.”

Media reports say the government might allow people to move freely within cities but limit their travel between the country's 20 regions.

Conte was also reportedly considering the option of outfitting airports and train stations with thermal scanners that can flag people who are running fevers.

But Conte cautioned against expecting bars and restaurants to open their doors in May — or tourists returning this summer.

“We will be reviewing our social distancing rules,” said Conte. “But this does not mean that we will be abandoning them.”

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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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