Italy warns of uptick in coronavirus infections as reproduction number rises

Italy warns of uptick in coronavirus infections as reproduction number rises
People gather outside in Verona, Italy. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP
People in Italy have been warned to remain cautious as the number of coronavirus infections detected shows an "upward trend", especially asymptomatic cases.

“Widespread transmission of the virus persists and, if conditions are favourable, can lead to significant outbreaks, often linked to the importation of cases from other countries,” the Ministry of Health and Higher Health Institute said in their latest weekly report on Italy's coronavirus epidemic.

“The number of new infections, though contained overall, shows an upward trend.”

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According to the report, which covers the period from July 27th to August 2nd, Italy's reproduction number or Rt – the average number of people an infected person will pass the virus on to – rose from 0.98 in the previous week to 1.01. If a disease is to be wiped out, epidemiologists say the Rt needs to be below 1.

More than half of Italy's 20 regions now have an Rt above 1, notably the holiday hotspot of Sicily where the regional Rt was the highest in Italy at 1.62.

The provinces of Bolzano (1.43) and Trento (1.28) and the regions of Veneto (1.28), Campania (1.25), Tuscany (1.2),  Liguria (1.16), Marche (1.13), Puglia (1.1), Lazio (1.08), Lombardy (1.04) and Emilia-Romagna (1.01) are also above the key threshold.

Meanwhile three regions – Calabria, Basilicata and Molise, all in the south or centre – have an Rt of 0, indicating a very low rate of transmission.

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Across Italy the incidence of coronavirus stood at 5.8 cases per 100,000 people in the two weeks to August 2nd, compared to 5.1 in the fortnight prior.

The numbers are due in part to increased screening and detection, the report said, especially among people without symptoms. 

But the data shows “warning signs”, the authors said, stressing the need to maintain frequent hand-washing, the use of face masks, social distancing, and especially a quarantine period for those who have come into contact with an infected person or returned to Italy from a country with a high infection rate.

Without enforcing quarantine rules, “in the coming weeks we could see a significant increase in the number of cases at a national level,” the report warned.

The warning comes as the Italian government prepares to announce a new emergency decree setting out which coronavirus restrictions should remain in place for the coming weeks and months.

The decree, due by Monday, is widely expected to maintain the requirement to wear a face mask in enclosed public spaces, keep social distancing rules in place and retain a ban on large gatherings.

Nearly 12,700 people are currently positive for coronavirus in Italy, according to the Health Ministry's latest figures, while 249,204 cases have been confirmed since the beginning of the outbreak. More than 35,000 of them were fatal.

Another 402 cases were confirmed on Thursday, up from 384 on Wednesday and 190 on Tuesday.


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