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HEALTH

Army sent to virus ‘red zone’ town in southern Italy as tensions flare

Italy sent army and riot police reinforcements on Friday to a new coronavirus hotspot in the southern Campania region, where an outbreak among foreign farm workers has sparked tensions with Italians.

Army sent to virus 'red zone' town in southern Italy as tensions flare
Residents of an apartment building in the quarantied area in Mondragone throw objects from balconies on Thursday. All photos: Stringer/ANSA/AFP

Local authorities had already said on Thursday they had called the army for help securing the area after several of the people who'd tested positive went missing.

Some 700 people were placed under lockdown for 15 days in the complex of five blocks of flats in Mondragone, 60 kilometres north of Naples, regional governor Vincenzo De Luca said late on Thursday.

READ ALSO: Where are Italy's new clusters of coronavirus cases?

Local health authorities said 43 positive cases had been identified and tests were being carried out on all the residents.

Four of the high-rise blocks house undocumented Bulgarian workers, while Italian squatters occupy the fifth, De Luca said.

The Palazzi Cirio estate is “one of the thousands of ghettos in Italy, where we amass more or less undocumented foreigners to make them live in more or less heinous conditions,” said Corriere della Sera's editorialist Goffredo Buccini.

Fifty army soldiers were sent in to help secure the zone on Thursday, after clashes between frustrated Bulgarians who wanted to return to work to earn money for food, and angry locals who blamed them for spreading the virus.

Stringer/ANSA/AFP

Hundreds of Bulgarians who came out to demonstrate Thursday were persuaded by police to return inside, but later, locals who learned they had left the estate then turned up to throw stones and trash cars, local media reported.

Coronavirus tests were being offered to residents living near the estate, and if 100 cases surfaced the whole seaside town would be locked down, De Luca said.

He said a few people with the virus had since slipped through the net and disappeared, but insisted surveillance of the estate would be 24 hours from now on.

Stringer/ANSA/AFP

'Exploited'

“The Bulgarian workers… are part of the endless labour force working in the southern countryside without rights, often without contracts, without any security,” organised crime expert Roberto Saviano wrote in the Repubblica daily on Friday.

“It's easy in this case to say that those spreading the disease are the foreigners, the invaders, the immigrants, the families of Bulgarian workers accused of going out to continue working,” he said.

“But it would have happened the same if it had been Italian workers living in those working conditions, with those wages”.

Stringer/ANSA/AFP

The estate was built decades ago as part of a project to transform Mondragone into the world's capital of mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella) production, he said.

Furious locals “seem to forget that those workers are essential to the countryside, that without them the (mozzarella-producing) buffaloes would drown in shit and neglect,” he added.

It was not the only cluster of new cases in Italy, which lifted its lockdown at the start of June after three months of a pandemic which has officially killed over 34,600 people.

At least 64 cases have emerged at a warehouse in Bologna used by express courier Bartolini, including 17 friends and relatives of workers.

Italian media identified 10 cases of new clusters across the country this week, including in care homes in Como and Alessandria in the north, and a religious institute in Rome.

Stringer/ANSA/AFP

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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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