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HEALTH

Covid-19: Italians warned to be cautious after slight rise in new cases

Authorities have reminded people in Italy to follow three basic health precautions as the number of infections rose slightly.

Covid-19: Italians warned to be cautious after slight rise in new cases
A woman has her body temperature scanned at entrance to the Uffizi Gallery Museum in Florence. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP
Italy registered an increase in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases on Thursday, meaning infections had risen in the country for a second day running.
 
Earlier on Thursday, Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza warned in a radio interview that a second wave later is the year was “possible”, and urged people to continue to take three “essential” measures to lower the risk: wearing marks, washing hands regularly, and social distancing.
 
There were 306 cases detected in 24 hours, compared to 280 on Wednesday and 128 on Tuesday, according to data from the Civil Protection Agency,
 
Officials also reported 10 deaths attributed to Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, with the total Italian death toll rising to 35,092.
 
There are now 12,404 known positive cases in Italy, and 49 patients are in intensive care.
 
While many Italian regions have recently been recording zero new cases, on Thursday only one region, Valle d'Aosta, had no new positives in the last 24 hours.
 
Out of the 306 cases identified, 82 were in Lombardy, 55 in Emilia Romagna, 30 in the autonomous Province of Trento, 26 in Lazio, 22 in Veneto, 16 in Campania, 15 in Liguria, and 10 in Abruzzo. All other regions reported a single-digit increase.
 
The health ministry said the situation in Italy remains “extremely fluid,” stating that Thursday's figures “highlight how the epidemic of Covid-19 in Italy has not yet ended.”
 
“In some regions, the presence of new cases imported from another region and/or from a foreign country is reported.”
 
Speranza had said on Tuesday that, while Italy is now “out of the storm” and over the worst of the health emergency, people in the country must remain cautious.
 
He confirmed that ministers are still discussing whether or not to extend the current state of emergency in Italy beyond the current cut-off date of July 31st.
 
It is widely expected to be prolonged until October 31st though this has not yet been officially confirmed, Italian media reports.

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ENVIRONMENT

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy

The northern cities of Milan and Turin were named Italy's 'smog capitals' in a new pollution report on Monday which urged the government to take action over poor air quality.

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy
Photo: Pixabay

Smog and pollution are choking Italian cities year-round and many towns are exceeding limits on fine particles and other pollution, according to another report from Italian environmental watchdog Legambiente.

The Mal’aria di città (Air pollution in the city) report for 2023, unveiled on Monday, was the latest to warn about the risks to health posed by pollution in many parts of the country.

It found that 25 of 95 cities monitored had violated clean air ordinances by exceeding daily fine particle (PM10) emission limits, which are currently set at no more than 35 days a year with a daily average of over 50 micrograms per cubic metre.

Turin was ranked as the worst offender, exceeding this level on 90 days, closely followed by Milan (84), Asti (79), Modena (75), and Padua and Venice at 70.

These were followed by Cremona, Treviso, Mantua and Rovigo, all of which exceeded limits to a lesser degree.

All of the most polluted cities were in the northern Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto, with most within the north-western ‘industrial triangle’.

Some southern cities featured nearer the bottom of the ranking, with Andria (Puglia) and Ragusa (Sicily) exceeding limits on several days, as well as Rome, which overshot the permitted level for one day.

(Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The average annual rate of PM10 emissions nationwide dropped slightly, by two percent year-on-year, the report found.

“This, however, is not enough to guarantee the health of citizens,” said Stefano Ciafani, president of Legambiente.

He pointed out that the situation looked even worse if air quality in Italian cities were measured against tighter limits under the new European Directive on air quality, in force from 2030, which lowers the PM10 threshold from 35 to 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

“Only 23 out of 96 cities (24 percent) would be under these limits,” Ciafani said, while 84 percent would exceed the threshold for PM2.5 and 61 percent for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Italy has repeatedly been reprimanded by the European Union over air quality, and has “persistently and systematically” breached EU recommended limits, the European Court of Justice ruled in 2020.

The north of Italy has long been ranked among the worst areas in Europe for polluted air according to data from the European Environment Agency.

“Air pollution is not only an environmental problem, but also a health problem of great importance,” said Ciafani. “In Europe, it’s the main cause of premature death due to environmental factors.”

“Italy has more than 52,000 deaths per year caused by PM2.5 emissions, equal to a fifth of those recorded throughout the continent,” he said.

The main causes of air pollution in Italian cities are reported to be industry, inefficient domestic heating systems, agricultural practices and, most of all, heavy traffic.

In Italy, cars continue to be by far the most-used means of transport. 65.3 percent of journeys overall are made by car, Legambiante wrote, with the emissions from some 38 million cars choking Italy’s towns and cities.

(Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

Legambiente said “drastic” measures were required to tackle the problem, including funds for more efficient heating systems in homes and public buildings and a major increase in public transport provision.

The group said Italy must “quadruple the availability of public transit, promoting integrated season tickets as done by Germany in 2022”, triple the number of electric buses, create zero-emission zones in town centres, and “create another 16,000 kilometres of cycle paths”.

It also praised local authorities choosing to bring in 30 km/h speed limits in city centres. Councils in Bologna, Turin, Milan and Cesena have all said they plan to implement these limits, following the lead of European cities including Paris and Madrid, despite fierce criticism from Italian transport minister Matteo Salvini.

Legambiente published a petition urging the government to make clean air and more livable cities a priority, saying Italy should follow Paris in attempting to create ’15-minute cities’, in which everyone lives within a quarter of an hour’s walk of vital amenities such as shops and schools and possibly also workplaces.