Budget: Italy sets aside €400m fund for vaccines and anti-Covid drugs

Italy's new draft budget proposal includes 400 million euros for the purchase of "anti SARS-COV-2 vaccines and drugs for the treatment of patients with COVID-19".

Budget: Italy sets aside €400m fund for vaccines and anti-Covid drugs
Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

The special fund for the Ministry of Health is included in a draft of Italy's next budget, about to be scrutnised by parliament.

It is not known which drugs or vaccines the health ministry is planning to purchase.

Hopes for a vaccine were raised again on Monday as US firm Moderna announced a vaccine in development has proven 94 percent effective in trials.

READ ALSO: Covid-19 vaccine found to be '90 percent effective', says Germany-based biotech firm

The news came hot on the heels of an announcement last week that a 90% effective vaccine may soon be available from Germany-based BioNTech and its American partner Pfizer as it published the results of their first large-scale trials, which are still ongoing.

If the BioNTech vaccine is approved, Italy would receive up to 13.5% of the 200 million doses reserved by the European Union, equal to around 27.2 million doses – enough for 14 million people (double inoculation is needed).
Italy’s health minister said the news of a potential coronavirus vaccine was “encouraging”, but urged people to remain cautious and not to abandon safety measures.
Several other potential vaccines are in development around the world, including one being trialled in Italy, developed by Oxford University and the AstraZeneca pharmaceutical group.
Italy's 2021 fiscal plan is described by local media as a “maxi” budget due to its size – it contains 248 measures and is worth more than 38 billion euros.

This figure may yet increase, as the plan is likely to be revised in the coming weeks after already facing long delays.

Other measures in the draft, which have not yet been confirmed, include a four-bilion-euro fund to support the businesses hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent shutdowns. These are defined as having a “decrease in turnover of at least 30%”. 

It's not clear from the draft how exactly the further funding would be distributed.

The budget plan also includes tax breaks aimed getting more women back into work, and at encouraging more electronic payments.

A planned 25 percent tax increase on e-cigarettes has reportedly been scrapped.

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Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”