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First Covid-tested flight lands in Rome from New York

The first "Covid-tested" flight arrived in Rome from New York on Wednesday, an initiative designed to open up air routes between Europe and the United States blocked by the pandemic.

First Covid-tested flight lands in Rome from New York
Passengers just landed in Rome from New York on an Alitalia flight wait to undergo a rapid antigen swab test for Covid-19 on December 9th. AFP
Passengers had to show they had returned a negative virus test within 48 hours of getting on the Alitalia flight from John F. Kennedy airport, and were required to take another test on arrival at Rome's Fiumicino.
 
All 100 passengers on board came up negative, according to the AGI news agency, allowing them to avoid a 14-day quarantine required of other arrivals
from the United States.
 
 
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
 
Among them was Chiara, an Italian living in the United States who is visiting her parents with her husband and seven-month-old son.
 
“It's been almost a year since we returned to Italy,” she told AFP.
 
“In April our son was born and so far no one from our family has met him. That's why we are so thrilled.”
 
Everyone on board still had to wear masks and replace them every four hours, according to airport authorities.
 
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
 
“This is an extraordinary experiment, because it rekindles hope for air travel, mobility and the economy even in the presence of coronavirus,” said
Nicola Zingaretti, head of the Lazio region that includes Rome.
 
The move follows the launch in September of so-called virus-free domestic flights between Rome and financial capital Milan.
 
The introduction of these flights does not necessarily mean the rules on travel to Italy from the US are set to be changed, however.
 
Restrictions remain on non-essential travel to Italy from the US and many other non-EU countries.
 
 
Under tightened rules over the Christmas period, all arrivals from overseas between December 21st and January 6th will be required to quarantine for 14 days on arrival regardless of whether or not they are able to show a negative test result.
 
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

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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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