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HEALTH

This is where people in Italy are becoming infected with coronavirus

The number of new cases of coronavirus detected in Italy has increased for the fourth week in a row, with more than 1,300 currently active outbreaks in the country. But where are they, and how did they start?

This is where people in Italy are becoming infected with coronavirus
Holidaymakers returning from Sardinia by ferry wait to undergo a compulsory drive-through swab test at the port of Civitavecchia, northwest of Rome, on August 23rd. photo: AFP

New cases of Covid-19 have increased sharply again in recent days. Health authorities reported 1,411 new cases on Thursday, similar to numbers not seen since early May when the country was still under lockdown. 

Authorities also reported 490 new outbreaks, or clusters, for a total of 1,374 active outbreaks
 
This is compared to 1,077 active outbreaks last week, of which 281 were new.
 
Though the numbers are rising again, the profile of the average patient has changed in Italy, as in many other countries. Most of the new cases are asymptomatic, and the average age of those diagnosed has fallen again from 34 last week to just 29 years old this week.
 
 
 
The continuing rise in new infections in Italy over the past few weeks, health authorities say, is at least partly down to more proactive screening that has allowed them to identify cases sooner. This may also explain why so many of the cases are asymptomatic.
 
The number of tests being done has also increased – however, so has the percentage of swabs coming back positive.
 
Thanks to Italy’s contact tracing protocols, people who have come in contact with someone infected can also be isolated more swiftly, cutting off the chain of transmission. 
 
Despite this, hundreds of new focolai ('hotspots') continue to emerge across Italy each week.
 
Where are the latest outbreaks?
 
While in the initial stage of the coronavirus crsis the majority of cases were seen in several northern italian regions, now health authorities say they have “detected a widespread transmission of the virus throughout the national territory.”
 
However, the latest data shows that some regions are still far more severely affected than others.
 
On Thursday, Lombardy was still the worst-affected region in terms of new cases, with 286 postitive swabs in the region within 24 hours.
 
 
There has been a lot of focus on Sardinia this week after reports of several outbreaks on the popular Italian holiday island during peak summer holiday season.
 
Some 500 guests were quarantined at a resort after a staff member tested positive, while health authorities traced some 60 cases to the island’s famed Billionaire nightclub, owned by former F1 boss Flavio Briatore – who is himself being treated for the virus in Milan.
 
Half of the new cases in Rome's Lazio region have been traced to holidaymakers returning from Sardinia, some of whom visited Billionaire.
 
Several outbreaks have been reported on the island of Sardinia recently. Photo: AFP
 
Cases have also been connected to people visiting nightclubs in the Lazio and Emilia-Romagna regions before the government ordered all discos to close in mid-August.
 
Meanwhile several outbreaks have been reported at care homes for the elderly this week, including 22 positive cases at a care home in Lombardy.
 
Where and how are people being infected?
 
In Thursday’s joint statement by the Italian Higher Institute of Health (ISS) and the Ministry of Health, experts noted that they were seeing “outbreaks of considerable size, often associated with recreational activities involving gatherings and violations of physical distancing rules, both domestically and abroad.”
 
“We are witnessing the subsequent importation of cases and a further local transmission when returning after holiday periods,” the statement read.
 
They said some 20 percent of the new cases could be linked to international travel.
 
Amid fears of a possible second wave, authorities insist the outbreaks can currently be kept under control.
 
Health authorities stressed  “the need to respect quarantine and other recommended measures. otherwise, in the coming weeks, we could see a further increase in the number of cases at the national level”.
 
“Local services have so far managed to contain local transmission of the virus but, should the current trend continue, the responsiveness of these services could be severely tested.”
 

 

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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.