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HEALTH

Italy lays out plan for coronavirus vaccinations ‘from spring 2021’

Italy will distribute free vaccinations against coronavirus once the jabs are approved, the health minister said on Wednesday. Here's who will be first in line.

Italy lays out plan for coronavirus vaccinations 'from spring 2021'
Several potential vaccines are currently in development. AFP

The immunisation drive is expected to begin in the spring,  Roberto Speranza said in an address to parliament.

Italy will get its vaccines via an EU procurement programme and is waiting for the European Medicines Agency's green light.

Britain on Wednesday became the first western country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine for general use, announcing the rollout of a vaccine developed by Germany's BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer from next week.

READ ALSO: Italy warns public to remain cautious despite 'encouraging' vaccine news

Meanwhile Europe's medicines regulator has said it will decide by December 29 whether to grant emergency approval to Pfizer-BioNTech's jab, ahead of another potential treatment from Moderna.

The latest timeline suggests Europeans could receive the first jabs before the year is over.

Nonetheless, Speranza said: “We can finally see light at the end of the tunnel.”

The health minister said Italy has signed contracts for vaccines from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, Pfizer, CureVac and Moderna.

Who will be first to get the vaccine?

Once approval comes, doctors and health care workers will get the first doses – some 1.4 million people.

They will be followed by residents in care homes – just over 570,000 people.

Those aged over 80 will be next in line, followed by those aged 60-79, and those suffering from at least one chronic disease.

Vaccines will then be distributed to key workers — teachers, police, prison wardens 

After that, it will be offered to the general population at walk-in centres.

“It will not be obligatory at first. The government will be monitoring how the campaign progresses,” he added.

“The vaccine will be distributed to all Italians for free,” Speranza said.

This is unlikely to mean however that the vaccine would be available only to Italian citizens.

All current mandatory or recommended vaccines are available to everyone in the country – including those not registered with the SSN (National Health Service).

Photo: AFP

Speranza also said people in Italy should prepare for restrictions to continue over the Christmas holidays – though he did not give concrete details of new measures due to come into force when the previous restrictions expire this week.

READ ALSO: 'A different kind of Christmas': What will Italy's new coronavirus rules be in December?

“I warn you now: do not mistake the first ray of sunlight for an escape from danger,” he said, adding: “If we let down our guard now, the third wave is just around the corner.”

Speranza urged all lawmakers in Italy, where campaigners against vaccination are very vocal, to get behind the immunisation push.

“There's no government majority or opposition on this, there are simply Italians,” he said.

One recent survey found that nearly 50 percent of people asked in Italy said they would have doubts about getting vaccinated, including 11 percent who described themselves as “completely against” a vaccine.

Scientists estimate that 60-90 percent of a population needs to be vaccinated – possibly every year – to reach herd immunity against the coronavirus and stop future outbreaks.

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ENVIRONMENT

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy

The northern cities of Milan and Turin were named Italy's 'smog capitals' in a new pollution report on Monday which urged the government to take action over poor air quality.

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy
Photo: Pixabay

Smog and pollution are choking Italian cities year-round and many towns are exceeding limits on fine particles and other pollution, according to another report from Italian environmental watchdog Legambiente.

The Mal’aria di città (Air pollution in the city) report for 2023, unveiled on Monday, was the latest to warn about the risks to health posed by pollution in many parts of the country.

It found that 25 of 95 cities monitored had violated clean air ordinances by exceeding daily fine particle (PM10) emission limits, which are currently set at no more than 35 days a year with a daily average of over 50 micrograms per cubic metre.

Turin was ranked as the worst offender, exceeding this level on 90 days, closely followed by Milan (84), Asti (79), Modena (75), and Padua and Venice at 70.

These were followed by Cremona, Treviso, Mantua and Rovigo, all of which exceeded limits to a lesser degree.

All of the most polluted cities were in the northern Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto, with most within the north-western ‘industrial triangle’.

Some southern cities featured nearer the bottom of the ranking, with Andria (Puglia) and Ragusa (Sicily) exceeding limits on several days, as well as Rome, which overshot the permitted level for one day.

(Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The average annual rate of PM10 emissions nationwide dropped slightly, by two percent year-on-year, the report found.

“This, however, is not enough to guarantee the health of citizens,” said Stefano Ciafani, president of Legambiente.

He pointed out that the situation looked even worse if air quality in Italian cities were measured against tighter limits under the new European Directive on air quality, in force from 2030, which lowers the PM10 threshold from 35 to 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

“Only 23 out of 96 cities (24 percent) would be under these limits,” Ciafani said, while 84 percent would exceed the threshold for PM2.5 and 61 percent for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Italy has repeatedly been reprimanded by the European Union over air quality, and has “persistently and systematically” breached EU recommended limits, the European Court of Justice ruled in 2020.

The north of Italy has long been ranked among the worst areas in Europe for polluted air according to data from the European Environment Agency.

“Air pollution is not only an environmental problem, but also a health problem of great importance,” said Ciafani. “In Europe, it’s the main cause of premature death due to environmental factors.”

“Italy has more than 52,000 deaths per year caused by PM2.5 emissions, equal to a fifth of those recorded throughout the continent,” he said.

The main causes of air pollution in Italian cities are reported to be industry, inefficient domestic heating systems, agricultural practices and, most of all, heavy traffic.

In Italy, cars continue to be by far the most-used means of transport. 65.3 percent of journeys overall are made by car, Legambiante wrote, with the emissions from some 38 million cars choking Italy’s towns and cities.

(Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

Legambiente said “drastic” measures were required to tackle the problem, including funds for more efficient heating systems in homes and public buildings and a major increase in public transport provision.

The group said Italy must “quadruple the availability of public transit, promoting integrated season tickets as done by Germany in 2022”, triple the number of electric buses, create zero-emission zones in town centres, and “create another 16,000 kilometres of cycle paths”.

It also praised local authorities choosing to bring in 30 km/h speed limits in city centres. Councils in Bologna, Turin, Milan and Cesena have all said they plan to implement these limits, following the lead of European cities including Paris and Madrid, despite fierce criticism from Italian transport minister Matteo Salvini.

Legambiente published a petition urging the government to make clean air and more livable cities a priority, saying Italy should follow Paris in attempting to create ’15-minute cities’, in which everyone lives within a quarter of an hour’s walk of vital amenities such as shops and schools and possibly also workplaces.