What does Italy’s state of emergency mean and why has it been extended?

Italy has extended its state of emergency once again. Here's what that actually means for people in the country.

What does Italy's state of emergency mean and why has it been extended?
Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (L) and President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Roberto Fico. Photo: AFP
The Italian government has extended the state of emergency until January 21st, 2021, which would mark a year since it was first introduced.
What is the state of emergency?
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.
And while it sounds dramatic, the declaration of a state of emergency has a specific purpose.
It gives greater powers to both the national government and to regional authorities, and it was declared in order to allow the Prime Minister to introduce, change, and revoke rules quickly, via emergency decrees, in response to the ever-changing epidemiological situation.
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 allows regional authorities to bring in their own local rules aimed at containing the spread of the virus.
Under the state of emergency, Conte’s government has issued a series of emergency decrees, usually referred to in Italy as DPCM (Decreto del presidente del consiglio, or Prime Minister’s decree) since the outbreak of Covid-19 began.
The decrees have been used to introduce, tighten or relax various rules depending on the current infection rate in Italy and in other countries.
Under the state of emergency it is easier for officials to introduce new health measures and to declare “red zones” in case of outbreaks.
While the coronavirus infection rate in Italy at the moment remains relatively low, it is rising and it the government says it wants to be able to act swiftly if things change.
Will the current rules in Italy change?
The extension of the state of emergency does not automatically mean that rules put in place under the current emergency decree will also be extended.
However the state of emergency is needed to allow the government to pass new rules quickly throug parliament in response to the changing coronavirus situation.
Italy is set to pass its next emergency decree on or before October 15th.
On October 7th, ministers approved a new rule making masks compulsory outdoors at all times of the day, everywhere in Italy.
The mask-wearing rule is backed up with large fines for non-compliance.

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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.