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HEALTH

Italy’s Lombardy, Liguria, and Piedmont regions ‘not ready to reopen’, new study warns

The northern Italian regions of Lombardy, Liguria, and Piedmont are not ready to safely remove travel restrictions on June 3rd, according to a new study by GIMBE, Italy's Group for Evidence-based Medicine.

Italy's Lombardy, Liguria, and Piedmont regions 'not ready to reopen', new study warns
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

“Our analysis on the post-reopening period, from May 4th, shows that Lombardy, Liguria, and Piedmont have the highest percentage of positive diagnostic swabs,”  the independent scientific foundation's head, Dr. Nino Cartabellotta, stated in a press release on Thursday.

“At the same time, these regions also have the greatest increase in new cases, and a limited aptitude to carry out diagnostic tests.”

The warning came as Italy's health minister, Roberto Speranza, prepared to evaluate data from the ISS, Italy's Higher Health Institute, on new infections ahead of a final decision on resuming travel to and within Italy in early June.

This is set to be the next stage of bringing the country out of lockdown, with most other rules eased throughout May. Italy had been almost completely shut down for nearly two months, with strict measures put in place aimed at controlling the spread of coronavirus in the country.

But on Thursday, Cartabellotta described the Italian government's provisional plan to re-allow travel between regions, as well as some international travel, from June 3rd as “risky”, and suggested that the government should keep restrictions in place “only in the three regions most at risk, perhaps allowing movement between them.”

Outside a hospital in Codogno, the town which was at the centre of the initial outbreak in Lombardy. Photo: AFP

Cartabellotta also questioned the data being released by the worst-hit region of Lombardy, claiming the regional authorities were “working some sleight of hand on the numbers.”

“Too many strange things have occurred in the last three months,” he said in an interview on Thursday's 24Mattino show on Italian Radio 24.

He said this included patients being counted as “recovered” in regional reports to the Civil Protection Department, and delays in the communication of data, “as if there was a need to keep the number of diagnosed cases below a certain level.”

The regional government responded by saying his words were “extremely serious, offensive and above all not in line with the truth.”

The region said its data was “published in a transparent way” and that “no one,  including the ISS, has ever called into question the quality of our work.”

READ ALSO: 

Lombardy is by far the worst-hit region in Italy, having suffered around half of the country's 33,000 officially recorded Covid-19 deaths.

Despite this, however, its regional government has long been pushing for businesses to reopen as soon as possible.

In an interview with The Local last week, Cartabellotta called the effectiveness of Italy's regionalized system of testing and data reporting into doubt, and accused the Italian government of putting economic interests “ahead of health protection” as it pushed ahead with reopening faster than previously planned.

 

 

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COVID-19 RULES

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

The new Italian government has announced the end of some remaining Covid health measures. Here's a look at what will - and won't - change.

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

Few Covid-related restrictions remain in Italy today, six months after the nationwide ‘state of emergency’ ended.

The previous government had kept only a handful of precautionary measures in place – which the new government, led by Giorgia Meloni, must now decide whether or not to keep.

The cabinet is holding a meeting on Monday and will issue a decree this week detailing any changes to the health measures.

Many expect the government to scrap all measures entirely by the end of the year, after Meloni and her party criticised the way Mario Draghi’s administration handled the pandemic throughout its tenure. 

Meloni clearly stated in her first address to parliament last Tuesday that “we will not replicate the model of the previous government” when it comes to managing Covid.

READ ALSO: Five key points from Meloni’s first speech as new Italian PM

While she acknowledged that Italy could be hit by another Covid wave, or another pandemic, she did not say how her government would deal with it.

Meanwhile, new health minister Orazio Schillaci issued a statement on Friday confirming the end of several existing measures, saying he “considers it appropriate to initiate a progressive return to normality in activities and behaviour”.

Workplace ban for unvaccinated medical staff

Schillaci confirmed that the ministry will allow doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to return to work after being suspended because they refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Those who refuse vaccination will be “reintegrated” into the workforce before the rule expires at the end of this year, as part of what the minister called a “gradual return to normality”.

They will be allowed to return “in light of the worrying shortage of medical and health personnel” and “considering the trend of Covid infections”, the statement said.

Fines issued to healthcare staff aged over 50 who refused vaccination would also be cancelled, it added.

There were some 1,579 doctors and dentists refusing vaccination at the end of October, representing 0.3 percent of all those registered with Italy’s National Federation of the Orders of Physicians, Surgeons and Dentists (Fnomceo) 

Daily Covid data reports

Schillaci also confirmed in the statement that the health ministry will no longer release daily updates on Covid-19 contagion rates, hospital cases and deaths, saying this would be replaced by a weekly update.

It said it would however make the data available at any time to relevant authorities.

Mask requirement in hospitals to stay?

The requirement to wear face masks in hospitals, care homes and other healthcare facilities expires on Monday, October 31st.

At a meeting on the same day the government is expected to decide whether to extend the measure.

READ ALSO: What can we expect from Italy’s new government?

While the government had looked at scrapping the requirement, it reportedly changed stance at the last minute on Monday after facing heavy criticism from health experts.

Media reports published while the meeting was in progress on Monday said government sources had indicated the measure would in fact be extended.

Confirmation is expected to come later on Monday.

Italy’s face mask rules in care homes and healthcare facilities are up for renewal. Photo by Thierry ZOCCOLAN / AFP

‘Green pass’ health certificate

There is no indication that the new government plans to bring back any requirements to show a ‘green pass’: the digital certificate proving vaccination against or recent recovery from Covid, or a negative test result.

The pass is currently only required for entry to healthcare facilities and care homes, and this is expected to remain the case.

‘Dismantling the measures’

Some of the confirmed changes were strongly criticised by Italy’s most prominent healthcare experts.

Head of the Gimbe association for evidence-based medicine, Nino Cartabellotta, said the focus on cancelling fines for unvaccinated healthcare workers was “irrelevant from a health point of view .. but unscientific and highly diseducative”.

He told news agency Ansa it was “absolutely legitimate” for a new government to discontinue the previous administration’s measures, but that this “must also be used to improve everything that the previous government was unable to do”.

The government should prioritise “more analytical collection of data on hospitalised patients, investments in ventilation systems for enclosed rooms … accelerating coverage with vaccine boosters,” he said.

However, the plan at the moment appeared to be “a mere dismantling of the measures in place,” he said, “in the illusory attempt to consign the pandemic to oblivion, ignoring the recommendations of the international public health authorities”.

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