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HEALTH

Covid-19: Rome makes face masks compulsory in public at all times

Authorities in Rome and the surrounding Lazio region have ordered that masks must be worn at all times when in public following a sharp rise in new coronavirus cases locally.

Covid-19: Rome makes face masks compulsory in public at all times
A pedestrian wearing a face mask by Piazza Venezia in downtown Rome. Photo: AFP

While national rules already mean masks must be worn outdoors in public places in the evening, Lazio is the latest region to extend this rule to 24 hours a day.

“Masks are also mandatory during the day in Lazio,” said regional health councilor Alessio D'Amato at a press conference on Friday morning, held at the Lazzaro Spallanzani hospital in Rome and broadcast on social media.

The ordinance, signed by Lazio regional governor Nicola Zingaretti, will come into force tomorrow, Saturday October 3rd.
 
D'Amato confirmed that the provision applies to everyone except for children under the age of six and those with disabilities which prevent them from wearing a mask. Masks do not need to be worn by people exercising outdoors if they are alone.
 

 
Anyone who doesn't comply with the rules can be fined up to 400 euros.
 

“Masks are a powerful prevention tool which can stop the curve and send a message that we must follow rules,” he added.  “We need to rebuild together a path of responsibility as we have done in recent months together.”
 

The measure had to be introduced as the transmission rate (or R rate) in the region has now exceeded 1, D'Amato said.
 
On Thursday Lazio recorded its highest number of new cases in one day since the beginning of the emergency, with 265 new infections detected in the region.
 
 
Of those, 151 were in central Rome, and the city also recorded five deaths.
 
There are 49 people currently in intensive care in the region according to data from the regional health authority.
 
D'Aamato added during the press conference that, in total, the regional health authority had found some 290 positive cases in schools since they reopened.
 
He said this figure was in line with expectations.

 
Lazio is the latest Italian region to make masks compulsory at all times in public, after Lombardy, Campania, Sicily, and Calabria. Several cities in Italy have also tightened restrictions after a sharp rise in cases.
 
 
Italy registered 2,548 new covid-19 infections on Thursday – the first time the number has exceeded 2,000 since April 29th.
 
The Veneto region recorded the most new infections with 445, followed by Campania with 390.
 

 
The number of new cases, as well as deaths and hospitalisations, has been rising in Italy for several weeks now. However Italian authorties insist that the situation can be kept under control at current rates.
 
Amid a new surge in cases across Europe, Italy overall is still seeing far lower levels of transmission than other European countries such as the UK, France and Spain.
 
 
Italian authorities are hoping that introducing timely local restrictions could be the key to avoiding another regional or even national lockdown.

In the rest of Italy, face masks are compulsory indoors during the day and outdoors between 6pm to 6am if you're in a busy area.

The government is set to review exisiting national rules under the emergency decree on September 7th.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday the government plans to extend the current state of emergency in the country until January 2021.

 

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MONKEYPOX

Semen ‘a vehicle’ for monkeypox infection, say Italian health experts

Researchers in Italy who were first to identify the presence of monkeypox in semen are broadening their testing, saying early results suggest sperm can transmit infection.

Semen 'a vehicle' for monkeypox infection, say Italian health experts

A team at Rome’s Spallanzani Hospital, which specialises in infectious diseases, revealed in a study published on June 2nd that the virus DNA was detected in semen of three out of four men diagnosed with monkeypox.

They have since expanded their work, according to director Francesco Vaia, who said researchers have found the presence of monkeypox in the sperm of 14 infected men out of 16 studied.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How is Italy dealing with rising monkeypox cases?

“This finding tells us that the presence of the virus in sperm is not a rare or random occurrence,” Vaia told AFP in an interview.

He added: “The infection can be transmitted during sexual intercourse by direct contact with skin lesions, but our study shows that semen can also be a vehicle for infection.”

Researchers at Spallanzani identified Italy’s first cases of monkeypox, found in two men who had recently returned from the Canary Islands.

The latest results reported by Vaia have not yet been published or subject to peer review.

Since early May, a surge of monkeypox cases has been detected outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic. Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.

More than 3,400 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the World Health Organisation from more than 50 countries this year.

The vast majority of cases so far have been observed in men who have sex with men, of young age, chiefly in urban areas, in “clustered social and sexual networks”, according to the WHO.

It is investigating cases of semen testing positive for monkeypox, but has maintained the virus is primarily spread through close contact.

Meg Doherty, director of the WHO’s global HIV, hepatitis and sexually-transmitted infection programmes, said last week: “We are not calling this a sexually-transmitted infection.”

Could antivirals curb the spread of monkeypox?

Spallanzani researchers are now trying to ascertain how long the virus is present in sperm after the onset of symptoms.

In one patient, virus DNA was detected three weeks after symptoms first appeared, even after lesions had disappeared – a phenomenon Vaia said had been seen in the past in viral infections such as Zika.

That could indicate that the risk of transmission of monkeypox could be lowered by the use of condoms in the weeks after recovery, he said.

The Spallanzani team is also looking at vaginal secretions to study the presence of the virus.

A significant finding from the first study was that when the virus was cultured in the lab, it was “present in semen as a live, infectious virus efficient in reproducing itself”, Vaia told AFP.

Vaia cautioned that there remained many unanswered questions on monkeypox, including whether antiviral therapies could shorten the time in which people with the virus could infect others.

Another is whether the smallpox vaccine could protect people from the monkeypox virus.

“To study this we will analyse people who were vaccinated 40 years ago before human smallpox was declared to have disappeared,” Vaia said.

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