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HEALTH

Coronavirus: Italy records almost 25,000 new cases with epidemic now ‘widespread across the country’

As Italy recorded another record high number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, health authorities said the R number is rising in all parts of the country.

Coronavirus: Italy records almost 25,000 new cases with epidemic now 'widespread across the country'
A Covid-19 patient is carried on a stretcher at the Umberto I hospital in Rome on October 28th. Photo: AFP
Italy's health ministry announced another record high number of new coronavirus cases at 24,991, up from 21,994 on Tuesday.
 
There were 205 deaths in the past 24 hours, and the number of known currently positive cases in the country is at 276,457.
 
 
While Lombardy continues to be by far the worst-hit region, authorities said new cases are no longer concentrated in some northern areas but are rising across Italy.
 
“The epidemic is now widespread throughout Italy and no longer localised,” said  Silvio Brusaferro, head of Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS) earlier on Wednesday.
 

 

 
“The Rt index, which describes the speed of spread of the virus, gives the idea of ​​the growth we are experiencing: it is now greater than 1 in all regions, and often far exceeds that.”
 
The median age of those infected is “today about 40 years, in the peak period it was 60-70. In the summer period about 30 years,” he said at a Senate health commission hearing.
 
Brusaferro stressed that it is “important to identify the asymptomatic” because “identifying people who carry the virus is the first frontier to stop the infection.” 
 
“We need to keep the curve of new infections below a certain threshold, making sure that people identified as positive can be traced.”
 
As the contagion curve continues to rise steeply, Italian health experts have urged the government to enforce stricter measures despite protests across the country this week by business owners and workers affected by the current closures.
 
Find all The Local's latest coronavirus updates here.
 

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POLITICS

Italy’s deputy health minister under fire for questioning Covid vaccines

Opposition leaders called for health undersecretary Marcello Gemmato to resign on Tuesday after the official said he was not "for or against" vaccines.

Italy's deputy health minister under fire for questioning Covid vaccines

Gemmato, a trained pharmacist and member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party, made the remark during an appearance on the political talkshow ReStart on Rai 2 on Monday evening.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

In a widely-shared clip, the official criticises the previous government’s approach to the Covid pandemic, claiming that for a large part of the crisis Italy had the highest death rate and third highest ‘lethality’ rate (the proportion of Covid patients who died of the disease).

When journalist Aldo Cazzullo interjects to ask whether the toll would have been higher without vaccines, Gemmato responds: “that’s what you say,” and claimed: “We do not have the reverse burden of proof.”

The undersecretary goes on to say that he won’t “fall into the trap of taking a side for or against vaccines”.

After Gemmato’s comments, the president of Italy’s National Federation of Medical Guilds, Filippo Anelli, stressed that official figures showed the Italian vaccination campaign had already prevented some 150,000 deaths, slashing the country’s potential death toll by almost half.

Vaccines also prevented eight million cases of Covid-19, over 500,000 hospitalisations, and more than 55,000 admissions to intensive care, according to a report from Italy’s national health institute (ISS) in April 2021.

Gemmato’s comments provoked calls for him to step down, including from the head of the centre-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta.

“A health undersecretary who doesn’t take his distance from no-vaxxers is certainly in the wrong job” wrote the leader of the centrist party Action, Carlo Calenda, on Twitter.

Infectious disease expert Matteo Bassetti of Genoa’s San Martino clinic also expressed shock.

“How is it possible to say that there is no scientific proof that vaccines have helped save the lives of millions of people? You just have to read the scientific literature,” Bassetti tweeted. 

In response to the backlash, Gemmato on Tuesday put out a statement saying he believes “vaccines are precious weapons against Covid” and claiming that his words were taken out of context and misused against him.

The Brothers of Italy party was harshly critical of the previous government’s approach to handling the Covid crisis, accusing the former government of using the pandemic as an excuse to “limit freedom” through its use of the ‘green pass’, a proof of vaccination required to access public spaces. 

But since coming into power, Meloni appears to have significantly softened her stance.

Her appointee for health minister, Orazio Schillaci, is a medical doctor who formed part of the team advising the Draghi administration on its handling of the pandemic.

Schillaci, a former dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at Rome’s Tor Vergata University, has described the former government’s green pass scheme as an “indispensable tool for guaranteeing safety in university classrooms”.

Speaking at a session of the G20 on Tuesday, Meloni referenced the role of vaccines in bringing an end to the Covid pandemic.

“Thanks to the extraordinary work of health personnel, vaccines, prevention, and the accountability of citizens, life has gradually returned to normal,’ the prime minister said in a speech.

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