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Coronavirus crisis in Italy ‘is not over’, president warns

The coronavirus crisis is not over in Italy, President Sergio Mattarella warned on the country's national day Tuesday, a day after a doctor created a furore by claiming that the virus no longer "exists" in the country.

Coronavirus crisis in Italy 'is not over', president warns
People taking a gondola ride and a gondolier wave as the Italian Air Force acrobatic unit Frecce Tricolori (Tricolored Arrows) perform on May 29, 2020 over Venice. AFP

The latest figures in Italy continue to show a downward trend in new cases as it prepares the next stage of its gradual easing of a national lockdown, after nearly 33,500 people died over three months from COVID-19.

Italians were celebrating Republic Day with “feelings of uncertainty and reasons to hope,” Mattarella said.

“The crisis is not over and institutions and citizens alike will still have to face its consequences and trauma,” Mattarella warned.

It would be “unacceptable and unforgivable to squander this legacy of sacrifice, pain, hope and the need to trust our people,” he said.

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“Italy – in this emergency situation – has shown its best face,” Mattarella said, adding that he was proud of his country and the “moral unity” of Italians which will be “the engine of rebirth”.

Alberto Zangrillo, head of the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, had caused a row this week by claiming that the virus no longer existed in Italy, prompting the government and experts around the world to urge caution.

Italy's President Sergio Mattarella. AFP

Mattarella on Tuesday took part in national day celebrations wearing a face mask as he laid a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Rome.

The Frecce Tricolori — the aerobatic squad of the Italian Air Force — flew over Rome, releasing a trail of smoke across the sky in the three colours of the national flag.

They had flown over several cities in the north, the part of the peninsula hardest hit by the new coronavirus, earlier in the week for a “message of hope and solidarity”.

The holiday marks the day in 1946 when Italians, in a passionate referendum, got rid of the monarchy and became a republic.

Mattarella was due to visit Codogno, the town where the virus first appeared in Italy in mid-February, on Tuesday afternoon to pay tribute to the memory of coronavirus victims in the Lombardy region.

Still traumatised but eager to return to normal life and to revive the economy, in particular the tourism sector, Italy has been gradually loosening restrictions since the beginning of May.

Shops, cafes and terraces have reopened, as have the vast majority of monuments and tourist sites including Saint Peter's Basilica, Pompeii, the Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the cathedrals of Milan and Florence and the Vatican Museums.

As a final step in lifting the restrictions, borders will reopen to foreign tourists on Wednesday and Italians will once again be allowed to move freely between the country's regions.

The government has insisted this is one of the most dangerous phases of the pandemic and has urged people to abide by social distancing rules and wear masks to prevent the virus from spreading once again.

According to the latest official daily death toll, 60 people have died from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours and 178 new cases were recorded, the lowest figure since February 26.

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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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