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HEALTH

Italy reports 19,000 more coronavirus cases as calls for lockdown grow

As coronavirus infections hit yet another record high, the governor of one of Italy's worst-hit regions is urging the Italian government to declare new restrictions across the entire country.

Italy reports 19,000 more coronavirus cases as calls for lockdown grow
A healthcare worker takes a rest at a hospital near Rome. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

“We have to close everything and we have to decide it today, not tomorrow,” said the governor of Campania, Vincenzo De Luca, whose region reported more than 2,000 cases in the past 24 hours.

“We're one step away from tragedy.”

Italy confirmed 19,143 more cases on Friday, its highest daily tally since the pandemic began. 

There are now more than 1,000 Covid-19 patients in intensive care, and more than 10,000 in hospital. Another 91 people died in the past 24 hours.

“The epidemic is rapidly getting worse,” according to the latest weekly bulletin from Italy's Ministry of Health and Higher Health Institute. 

“Measures are necessary, with priority given to the areas most affected, that favour a drastic reduction in physical interactions between people and can relieve the pressure on the health service, including restrictions on non-essential activity and mobility.” 

While the numbers continue to rise, Italy's government remains determined to avoid another costly national lockdown.

But regional governors have been taking matters into their own hands, with nighttime curfews and other restrictions declared in at least five of Italy's 20 regions so far.

“We will move towards closing everything,” said De Luca on Facebook on Friday, who has already confined Campania's residents to their own provinces except for essential reasons.

“With the figures that we have, the ordinance that came into effect today isn't enough.”

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Several regions have now imposed restrictions within their own borders, with Campania, Lombardy, Lazio, Calabria and Piedmont all under nighttime curfew as of Friday.

Meanwhile other parts of the country have ordered shopping centres to close this weekend and secondary schools to move some or all of their lessons online from next week.

The island of Sardinia looks set to announce a 15-day lockdown, with reports suggesting that ports, airports, and non-essential businesses could be ordered shut as soon as this weekend.

But other regions remain opposed to closing businesses or restricting movement.

Though Veneto reported another 1,550 cases on Friday, its governor Luca Zaia said that the situation was not comparable to the first wave of the pandemic, that hospital admissions remained manageable and that he would wait for the national government to move instead of introducing local restrictions. 

Experts have urged the government to take tougher action, with more than 100 academics today calling for “stringent, drastic measures” within days to prevent deaths climbing to the levels they reached in March.

But the national government is reluctant to call another general lockdown after shutting most of Italy's economy down for two months in the spring, as well keeping pupils out of schools and residents all but confined to their homes.

For now, the government is encouraging the public to stay home voluntarily.

“It is fundamental that people remain at home when possible and reduce all opportunities for contact with people outside their own household that are not strictly necessary,” the Ministry of Health and Higher Health Institute say in their weekly report.

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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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