“The phenomenon is partly linked to vacationers,” said Franco Locatelli, President of Italy's Higher Health Council and a member of the government's technical scientific committee (CTS) in an interview with Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera.
“Depending on the region, 25-40 percent of cases were imported by fellow citizens who had returned from travel abroad,” or to Italy's foreign residents returning from elsewhere, he said.
While cases had previously been concentrated in northern regions, they are “now widespread throughout the country with hundreds of outbreaks,” he said, adding that “in a week it rose from 200-300 per day to over 600 on August 15th.”
Meanwhile Locatelli said “cases imported by migrants, understood as being desperate people who flee, are minimal.”
“No more than 3-5 percent are positive, and some become infected in reception centers where it is more difficult to maintain adequate health measures.”
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Locatelli stressed that restarting tourism this summer had been necessary “in order not to damage the tourism economy and to allow Italians to enjoy their holidays in mountain and seaside resorts – avoiding going abroad.”
Though many Italians opted to stay in Italy this year – or said they weren't going on holiday at all – many Italian media reports have suggested young Italian holidaymakers returning from party hotspots may be partly to blame for the spike in cases.
The Italian government last week introduced mandatory testing for all travellers returning to Italy from Spain, Greece, Croatia, and Malta, in the hope of stemming new outbreaks, and on Tuesday a junior health minister suggested testing may also become a requirement for arrivals from France.
Italy's health minister on Sunday night ordered all nightclubs in Italy to close for three weeks amid concerns that social distancing and other precautionary measures were not being followed.
But Locatelli was reluctant to blame the recent surge in cases on younger people.
He said “their risk of becoming infected is similar to that for anyone else”.
“There is a reduction in the age of infected people due to the fact that we have learned to protect the elderly,” he expained. “Young people can become infected and are not safe from serious symptoms. Many twenty-year-olds have been hospitalized.”
“Nobody is immune.”
The government is keeping a close eye on rising infection rates with less than a month to go before schools are due to reopen.
Locatelli also said schools must be allowed to reopen as planned on September 14th and that keeping them shut beyond that was “out of the question”.
He said that if cases continue to rise, further business closures “couldn't be ruled out” in order to stop the spread, and urged people to continue to take basic precautions – wearing masks in public places, frequest hand.washing, and maintaining a distance from others.