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HEALTH

‘We’re out of the storm’: Health minister says Italy is past the worst of the Covid-19 crisis

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said Italy is now past the worst of the crisis, but stressed that caution is still needed.

'We're out of the storm': Health minister says Italy is past the worst of the Covid-19 crisis
Medical workers at the Tor Vergata Covid-19 hospital in Rome. Photo: AFP

“I believe Italy has made it,” Speranza said in a speech on Tuesday to the Coldiretti agricultural group's general assembly. “I'm not thinking of the government but of the country as a whole.”

“We were the first to be hit in the world after China, we didn't have an instruction manual. We had to learn about the virus,” he added.

Italy was the first European counry to be hit by the Covid-19 outbreak, which has now claimed more than 35,000 lives in Italy according to government figures.

“We're out of the storm,” the minister added, “even if not yet in a safe port.”

“I think we need to be honest with each other: these have been the most difficult months in the history of the country since the Second World War”.

“The international situation worries me a lot,” he added, saying the world had reached “the worst moment of the epidemic.”

But he stressed that “the general situation cannot allow us to say that this is in the past. It will only be a thing of the past when we have a vaccine”.

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza. File photo: AFP

Referring to the 209 billion euros allocated to Italy from the European rescue fund – 28 percent of the total – after an agreement was reached between EU leaders on Tuesday, Speranza said: “We have an enormous responsibility, unprecedented resources, but we must spend them well.”

Italy's government now faces the task of trying to rebuild the economy and mitigating the impact of the expected major recession after the country's strict coronavirus lockdown, which lasted almost three months and saw almost all business activity in the country completely shut down. 

READ ALSO: Italy's mortality rate doubled during worst month of Covid-19 outbreak, study shows

 

Italy was the first European country to implement a nationwide lockdown, announced on March 9th. authorties enforced strict rules that prevented people from leaving their homes other than for essential reasons.

While the lockdown began to ease as of May 4th and most restrictions have now been rolled back, Italy still has a number of precautionary measures in place aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus, including the requirement to wear masks in shops and on public transport.

There were 282 new cases of Covid-19 recorded in 24 hours, Italian officials reported on Wednesday July 22nd. There were nine deaths recorded in the same period, bringing the country's total death toll to 35.082. 

There are some 12,322 people known to be currently infected in Italy.

Ministers are still discussing whether or not to extend the current state of emergency in Italy beyond the 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.