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HEALTH

Italian region of Abruzzo declared ‘red zone’ as coronavirus situation worsens

The central Italian region of Abruzzo has declared itself a red zone, with stricter measures coming into effect on Wednesday November 18th.

Italian region of Abruzzo declared 'red zone' as coronavirus situation worsens
A factory worker arrives for a shift near Pescara, Abruzzo. Photo: AFP

Regional president Marco Marsilio signed the order on Tuesday evening, reportedly deciding not to wait until Friday for the latest report from the Higher Health Institute (ISS) as the situation in the region has worsened.

The stricter measures came into effect after midnight, on Wednesday.

Usually, changes to the tiered system are decided by the health ministry based on the weekly reports from the ISS.

READ ALSO: Where to find the latest Covid-19 information for your region of Italy

But this time health minister Roberto Speranza agreed that the region could sign an ordinance bringing in stricter rules before the health ministry's nationwide review, as the local health authority argued that previous orange level restrictions were not enough in light of the latest health data, Italian media reports.

Abruzzo recorded 729 new cases and 13 recent deaths in the previous 24 hours.

However the most significant figure is thought to be hospitalizations, of which there 26 more. The region reported 43.7% of its intensive care beds are occupied.

Under Italy's latest emergency decree, a national three-tier framework means some of the Covid-19 rules now differ based on where you are in Italy.

Regions are now divided into three categories: red, orange and yellow, under a new system based on how severe the coronavirus situation is locally.

People in the highest-risk zones are told to stay within their comune, or municipality, and are only allowed to leave for work, study, health or other essential reasons, as Italy brings in the strictest measures since its two-month spring lockdown was eased.

The tier system had already been updated twice at a national level since it was introduced on November 6th.

The further restrictions applicable to red zones include tighter travel restrictions and online learning for students above the second grade of middle school.

What are the red zone rules?

In addition to not being allowed to travel from one municipality to another, people in red zones are not allowed to move around within their own area unless for essential reasons, by either public or private transport.
 
 
If you need to leave your home for work, study, health or emergency reasons these must be justified using a self-certification form.
 
You can only enter or leave an orange or red zone for the same urgent reasons.
 

And, in addition to bars, cafes, restaurants, pastry shops and other catering businesses being closed to the public, as in orange zones, shops are to be closed except for those deemed essential, which include supermarkets and other food shops, tabacchi, bookshops and stationary shops.
 
Hairdressers and beauticians can also remain open.

 
How are the rules decided?
 
Italy's Health Ministry decides which region is in which zone based on the advice of its Technical Scientific Committee (CTS), effectively bypassing regional authorities – many of which have said they were against a local lockdown or other tough measures.
 
 
The CTS takes 21 indicators into account including each region's Rt number (which shows the transmission rate) as well as factors like hospital bed capacity and whether local health authorities are able to successfully trace the source of outbreaks.
 
 For more information please see the Italian Health Ministry's website (in English).

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Italy’s deputy health minister under fire after casting doubt on 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 after casting doubt on Covid vaccines

Gemmato, a 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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