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HEALTH

Italy approves use of rapid airport-style coronavirus tests in schools

Italy's coronavirus testing strategy is getting better every week, ministers said on Tuesday, as they looked at rolling out the rapid 30-minute tests currently used at airports in schools.

Italy approves use of rapid airport-style coronavirus tests in schools
A medical worker conducts a coronavirus test on a girl in Caserta, southern Italy. Photo: Ciro Fusco/ANSA/AFP

The government's scientific technical committee (CTS), which advises on Covid-19 rules, on Tuesday evening gave the plan the green light to go ahead nationally. 

“With the increase in cases and the opening of schools we need to do more and get results faster,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza told the Senate health committee earlier on Tuesday.
 
“This can help us to maintain the advantage, from the point of view of the number of infections, that we have today over other countries.”
Health authorities in the Lazio region had already confirmed they will start using the tests in some schools from Thursday.
 
The rapid antigen tests (‘test antigene’ or ‘test antigenico’, or sometimes just ‘tampone rapido’, ‘fast swab’), currently used in airports, are carried out with a cotton nasal swab, much like the “normal” tests which take 24-48 hours to give a result. The difference is in the method of ascertaining the presence of the virus and above all in the timing: with rapid tests the response arrives in 20-30 minutes.

These are the tests being used for mass screening of passengers at airports, stations and ferry terminals in Italy, but it’s important to know that they are less accurate than a PCR test.

You can read more about the airport testing process and different testing options available in a separate article here.

it is hoped that wider testing and faster results could help slow the spread of the virus in Italy, as new case numbers start to rise sharply in some areas such as in Naples and other parts of Campania.
 
“The tests are improving week on week,” Speranza said
 
.He added that it will be months yet before Italy has a safe and effective vaccine for the coronavirus.
 
 
“We have many more weapons than we had in March and April, in a few months we will have even more,” he said, stressing that the governments plans were “validated by science”.
 
Currently parents in Italy report having to keep children off school for several days while arranging for a test with local health authorities if their child is sent home with suspect symptoms, or if a classmate tests positive.
While the waiting time for a test is not usually very long, parents in most regions must currently obtain a health certificate confirming the negative result before the child can return to school.
 
650 classes in Italy have been sent home due to confirmed coronavirus cases so far since reopening began on September 14th, according to Turin-based Economics researcher Lorenzo Ruffino, who calculated the likely numbers by analyzing Italian media reports.
 
When a case is confirmed at a school, Italian health authorities send the entire class and teacher home for 14 days, as well as any other students or staff who may have been in contact with the infected person. Schools are also often shut down for one day for extra cleaning, though so far there are few reports of schools being closed down for longer than that.
 

 

The government's scientific technical committee (CTS), which advises on Covid-19 rules, on Tuesday gave the plan the green light to go ahead nationally. 

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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.