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LATEST: Italy plans to extend state of emergency until January 2021

Italy's government plans to extend the current state of emergency triggered by the coronavirus crisis until next year, the prime minister said on Thursday.

LATEST: Italy plans to extend state of emergency until January 2021
Pedetrians cross the street in Rome, near St. Peter's Square in the Vatican City. Photo: AFP

Italy's state of emergency is set to expire on October 15th, but with the situation still volatile the government's scientific and technical committee has recommended that it be extended until January 31st.

Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte confirmed the plans to journalists on Thursday morning, reportedly saying: “We will go to Parliament to ask for an extension of the state of emergency until January 31st.”

READ ALSO:  Everything that changes in Italy in October 2020

If the extension is granted by parliament, it would mean Italy remains in a state of emergency for one year.

Conte first called the state of emergency on January 31st 2020, after two cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Rome, but before Italy's first Covid-19-related deaths

 
What does the state of emergency mean for people in Italy?
 
In Italy, the procedure – which has been used in the past after floods and earthquakes – helps to cut red tape and also hands regional authorities special powers.
 
The most important thing to know is that the state of emergency itself does not determine the emergency rules and restrictions. It's not the same thing as an emergency decree.
 
Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte. Photo: AFP
 
While it sounds dramatic, the declaration of a state of emergency has a specific purpose.
 
It allows the Prime Minister to introduce, change, and revoke rules quickly, via emergency decrees, in response to the ever-changing epidemiological situation.
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The state of emergency effectively cuts through bureaucracy, as the introduction of these new rules and laws would otherwise require the usual lengthy parliamentary process.
 
It also gives greater powers to regional authorities, allowing them to introduce their own rules in response to infection rates locally.
 
 
Will there also be a new emergency decree?

It also allows regional authorities to bring in their own local rules aimed at containing the spread of the virus.

Italy’s current set of coronavirus rules, within the government’s emergency decree (DPCM), are up for review on October 7th – so before the state of emergency is set to expire.
 
It’s not known yet what ministers are planning, however as the number of new cases is now rising again here in Italy it’s thought unlikely that any rules will be relaxed.
 
What is the Covid-19 situation in Italy now?
 
The infection rate has been steadily rising in recent weeks, but remains relatively low and stable compared to many other European countries.
 
Authorities on Wednesday recorded 1,851 new cases in the last 24 hours, about 200 more than Tuesday's rise.
 
All regions recorded infections. Campania, once again, was worst hit with 287 new cases.
 
Hospitalisations continue to rise steadily, with 280 patients now in intensive care.
 
There were 19 deaths recorded on Wednesday, meaning the overall Italian death toll is now 35,894.
   

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HEALTH

Q&A: What you need to know about Italy’s West Nile virus outbreak

As Italy records a surge in cases of West Nile fever, we look at what the disease is and where in the country it's spreading.

Q&A: What you need to know about Italy's West Nile virus outbreak

Mosquitos are unfortunately one downside of summer in Italy. But as well as being a nuisance, they may also pose a health risk in the country – one of the few in Europe to record cases of West Nile virus (WNV)

READ ALSO: Cases of West Nile fever surge in northern Italy

Last week Italy recorded 50 more cases of the mosquito-borne virus, bringing the total number of infections to 144 according to the latest report from Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS).

This marked a 53-percent increase in cases against the previous week, while ten people have died so far.

As the number of infections continues to rise, here are the answers to the most pressing questions about the disease and the outbreak in Italy.

What is it?

The West Nile Virus (WNV) is a single-stranded RNA virus that can cause West Nile fever in humans.

It’s a member of the Flavivirus family together with other endemic viruses such as the Zika and Dengue viruses.

The virus was first identified in 1937 in Uganda’s West Nile district but has since spread to many other parts of the world, to the point that it is now considered indigenous to Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. 

Carried by birds, West Nile virus is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes.

The West Nile virus is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes of the Culex species, which infect humans and other mammals through their bite, according to Italy’s health ministry.

There is no evidence that human-to-human transmission is possible.

Where are cases being reported in Italy?

Infections have been largely concentrated in the north of the country, especially in the Veneto region, where six people have now died of the disease. Other deaths were recorded in Lombardy, Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna.

The city of Padua, which is located in Veneto’s mainland, around 35 kilometres away from the Adriatic coast, is currently regarded as the hotspot of the virus. 

It isn’t yet clear why Veneto has been the worst-hit region so far, but experts fear that its marshy lowlands might be the perfect breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes. 

A mosquito of the Culex species viewed under a microscope.

Mosquitoes of the Culex species, a specimen of which is pictured above, are responsible for transmitting the West Nile Virus to humans and other mammals. Photo by Jon CHERRY Getty Images / AFP

How severe is the outbreak in Italy?

West Nile virus is not new to Italy. However, this summer has brought the highest number of cases recorded yet.

National infection levels remain relatively low but the country has by far the largest number of cases in Europe.

According to the most recent report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), dated August 3rd, 94 out of 120 recorded cases were in Italy.

Greece had 23 reported cases. Romania and Slovakia had two and one respectively. 

Italy is the only European country that has reported fatalities.

What are the symptoms?

According to the Italian Higher Health Institute (ISS), around 80 percent of infected people show no symptoms whatsoever.

In symptomatic cases, however, symptoms generally resemble those of a common flu and include fever, headaches, nausea and diarrhoea. 

The infection is usually only dangerous for people with weakened immune systems such as the elderly, and the most severe symptoms occur in fewer than one percent of infected people.

In healthy people, the virus is unlikely to cause more than a headache or sore throat, and symptoms generally last only a few days.

According to the data currently available, around one in 150 infected people can show symptoms as serious as partial vision loss, convulsions and paralysis. 

In very rare cases (around 0.1 percent, or one in 1000) the disease can cause brain infections (encephalitis or meningitis) which may eventually be fatal.

Brazilian biologists handle mosquito larvae.

There is currently no vaccine against West Nile disease, though several are being tested. Photo by Apu GOMES / AFP

Is there a cure?

There is no vaccine against West Nile fever. “Currently vaccines are being studied, but for the moment prevention consists mainly in reducing exposure to mosquito bites,” the ISS states.

There is also no specific treatment for the disease caused by the virus.

Patients showing the more serious symptoms are usually admitted to hospital and treated with IV fluids and assisted ventilation.

What should you do to protect yourself?

Seeing as there is currently no vaccine against the virus, the best way to protect oneself is by reducing exposure to mosquitoes as much as possible.

Italian health authorities have listed a number of official recommendations to help residents avoid mosquito bites. These include: 

  • Use repellent
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers when being outdoors and especially during ​​mosquitoes’ peak activity times, i.e. sunrise and sunset
  • Use mosquito nets on your windows or sleep in rooms with air-conditioning and keep the windows closed
  • Make sure there are no pools of stagnant water around your house

See more information about West Nile virus in Italy on the health ministry’s website.

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