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COVID-19

Coronavirus was spreading in Italy as far back as September 2019, researchers claim

Covid-19 was spreading in Italy as early as September 2019, a new study by the National Cancer Institute (INT) in Milan has suggested.

Coronavirus was spreading in Italy as far back as September 2019, researchers claim
A medical worker takes a nasal swab from a woman at a drive-through Covid-19 screening area at the San Carlo hospital in Milan. AFP

The findings suggest the virus had spread to Europe fro China far earlier than first thought.

Italy’s first Covid-19 patient was officially identified on February 21st in a small town in the northern region of Lombardy.

IN GRAPHS: Track the spread of coronavirus in every region of Italy

But the study by the National Cancer Institute in Milan suggests the virus pay have been present in the region months earlier.

Reuters reports that Italian researchers’ found that 11.6% of 959 healthy volunteers enrolled in a lung cancer screening trial between September 2019 and March 2020 had developed coronavirus antibodies well before the first Covid-19 patient was identified.

A further SARS-CoV-2 antibodies test carried out by the University of Siena showed that four cases dating back to the first week of October were positive for antibodies, meaning they had first become infected in September, Giovanni Apolone, a co-author of the study, told Reuters.

“This is the main finding: people with no symptoms not only were positive after the serological tests but also had antibodies able to kill the virus,” Apolone said.

“It means that the new coronavirus can circulate among the population for a long time and with a low rate of lethality, not because it is disappearing, only to surge again,” he told the news agency.

Italian researchers told Reuters in March that they reported a higher than usual number of cases of severe pneumonia and flu in Lombardy in the last quarter of 2019 in a sign that the new coronavirus might have circulated earlier than thought.

Separately, studies of Italian waste water appear to show that the virus was circulating in December in parts of northern Italy.
 
In February, medical experts in Milan said they believed the virus had already been “circulating unnoticed for weeks” in Italy.
 
Milan and the surrounding Lombardy region has been at the centre of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak since the beginning.
 
Lombardy was the hardest-hit area during the first wave, and with cases now surging again in Italy the Lombardy region continues to report the highest number of new cases in the country, with around 8,000 new infections daily.
 
Lombardy has been declared a “red zone” and placed under the toughest coronavirus restrictions provided for by Italy’s current tiered system.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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