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HEALTH

Italy’s former PM Silvio Berlusconi hospitalised with Covid-19

Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who recently tested positive for the novel coronavirus, has been hospitalised "as a precaution", a statement from his entourage said on Friday.

Italy's former PM Silvio Berlusconi hospitalised with Covid-19
Silvio Berlusconi pictured while Italian Prime Minister in 2011. File Photo: AFP

It said the media tycoon was taken to San Raffaele hospital in Milan on Thursday night after suffering “certain symptons”, but there was “no cause for concern.”

Berlusconi and his children tested positive for the virus on Wednesday, becoming the latest among Italy's super rich to be hit after holidaying along
Sardinia's glamorous Emerald Coast.
 
The AGI news agency said Berlusconi, who turns 84 at the end of this month, was hospitalised in a room that he often occupies when he stays at the
facility. AGI said this indicates that his condition is not serious, or he would be in intensive care.
 
Licia Ronzulli, a senator with Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, said the former prime minister “spent the night in hospital to check on his
condition… but he is fine.”

 
Two of his children – daughter Barbara, 36, and son Luigi, 31 – have also contracted the virus, as has his companion Marta Fascina.

 
READ ALSO: Is Italy really heading for a coronavirus second wave?
 

Berlusconi, the scandal-hit politician who once owned AC Milan, had said on Wednesday that he would continue his political activities from his home in Milan.
 
“I will be present in the electoral campaign with interviews on televisions and in newspapers,” he said during a Forza italia party video conference.
 
His doctor Alberto Zangrillo said on Wednesday he was “asymptomatic.”
 
Zangrilio himself was embroiled in controversy in June after claiming that the virus “no longer exists”.

 
 
Regional elections are due to take place in two weeks as well as a referendum on reducing the number of Italian parliamentarians.
 
Berlusconi was first tested on August 25 after returning from a holiday in Sardinia where he owns a luxury villa and estate worth up to 470 million euros.
 
The result was negative, but he was tested again after friends in the area were found to be positive.
 
These included businessman Flavio Briatore, former managing director of the Benetton Formula One racing team, who was briefly hospitalised in Milan.
 
 
Part of the closed “Billionaire resort in Sardinia closed due to Covid-19. Photo: AFP
 
One of the best-known hangouts for the rich and famous is the “Le Billionaire” nightclub, part of a resort which belongs to Italian businessman and former
managing director of the Benetton Formula One racing team Flavio Briatore.
 
The nightclub was closed down in August after Briatore and employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

 
Ten days before, Briatore met Berlusconi at his home along the same coastline, according to local news reports.
 
Several other celebrities spotted at the nightclub also tested positive for Covid-19, including Bologna football club manager Sinisa Mihajlovic – who
underwent treatment for leukaemia last year – reports said.
 
 
Local television personalities, some 10 footballers, a boxer and one politician were also infected, the Corriere della Sera reported.

 
Berlusconi left for France in late February, at a time when Italy was becoming the epicentre of Covid-19 in Europe.
 
Forza Italia number two Antonio Tajani said at the time that doctors had warned the political veteran to actively avoid becoming infected.

 
One of the best-known hangouts for the rich and famous is the “Le Billionaire” nightclub, part of a resort which belongs to Italian businessman and former
managing director of the Benetton Formula One racing team Flavio Briatore.
 
The nightclub was closed down in August after Briatore and employees tested positive for the coronavirus.
 
 
More than 35,500 people have died in Italy – the first country in Europe to be hit by a major outbreak – the latest government figures said on Friday. The country, where almost 273,000 cases have been reported, emerged in May from a strict two-month lockdown.
 
Berlusconi's hospitalisation marks his return to the San Raffaele facility where he has been receiving treatment for years.
 
In the spring of 2019, he was operated on for an intestinal obstruction at the same facility where he underwent open-heart surgery in June 2016.
 
Berlusconi, known for his penchant for younger women and wild parties, in the past used his vitality as a political argument.
 
“Even as we grow older, we do not shrink from the responsibilities to which we have been called and which life continues to impose on us,” he said in 2016.
 
“Basically we are not really 80, but four times 20,” he said.

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Italy’s deputy health minister under fire after casting doubt on Covid vaccines

Opposition leaders called for health undersecretary Marcello Gemmato to resign on Tuesday after the official said he was not "for or against" vaccines.

Italy's deputy health minister under fire after casting doubt on Covid vaccines

Gemmato, a pharmacist and member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party, made the remark during an appearance on the political talkshow ReStart on Rai 2 on Monday evening.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

In a widely-shared clip, the official criticises the previous government’s approach to the Covid pandemic, claiming that for a large part of the crisis Italy had the highest death rate and third highest ‘lethality’ rate (the proportion of Covid patients who died of the disease).

When journalist Aldo Cazzullo interjects to ask whether the toll would have been higher without vaccines, Gemmato responds: “that’s what you say,” and claimed: “We do not have the reverse burden of proof.”

The undersecretary goes on to say that he won’t “fall into the trap of taking a side for or against vaccines”.

After Gemmato’s comments, the president of Italy’s National Federation of Medical Guilds, Filippo Anelli, stressed that official figures showed the Italian vaccination campaign had already prevented some 150,000 deaths, slashing the country’s potential death toll by almost half.

Vaccines also prevented eight million cases of Covid-19, over 500,000 hospitalisations, and more than 55,000 admissions to intensive care, according to a report from Italy’s national health institute (ISS) in April 2021.

Gemmato’s comments provoked calls for him to step down, including from the head of the centre-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta.

“A health undersecretary who doesn’t take his distance from no-vaxxers is certainly in the wrong job” wrote the leader of the centrist party Action, Carlo Calenda, on Twitter.

Infectious disease expert Matteo Bassetti of Genoa’s San Martino clinic also expressed shock.

“How is it possible to say that there is no scientific proof that vaccines have helped save the lives of millions of people? You just have to read the scientific literature,” Bassetti tweeted. 

In response to the backlash, Gemmato on Tuesday put out a statement saying he believes “vaccines are precious weapons against Covid” and claiming that his words were taken out of context and misused against him.

The Brothers of Italy party was harshly critical of the previous government’s approach to handling the Covid crisis, accusing the former government of using the pandemic as an excuse to “limit freedom” through its use of the ‘green pass’, a proof of vaccination required to access public spaces. 

But since coming into power, Meloni appears to have significantly softened her stance.

Her appointee for health minister, Orazio Schillaci, is a medical doctor who formed part of the team advising the Draghi administration on its handling of the pandemic.

Schillaci, a former dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at Rome’s Tor Vergata University, has described the former government’s green pass scheme as an “indispensable tool for guaranteeing safety in university classrooms”.

Speaking at a session of the G20 on Tuesday, Meloni referenced the role of vaccines in bringing an end to the Covid pandemic.

“Thanks to the extraordinary work of health personnel, vaccines, prevention, and the accountability of citizens, life has gradually returned to normal,’ the prime minister said in a speech.

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