Coronavirus: Italian health expert warns new strain is ‘probably already in Italy’

Virus expert Walter Ricciardi on Monday criticised the British government for "keeping quiet" about a new coronavirus strain, saying Italy "now needs a longer lockdown."

Coronavirus: Italian health expert warns new strain is 'probably already in Italy'
Photo: AFP

“Faced with this new variant, which is probably already in Italy, I fear that severe closures are inevitable,” Walter Ricciardi, a senior Italian government health advisor, told Italian newspaper Il Messaggero in an interview on Monday.

“What makes me angry is that the British had known since September that this variant was in circulation,” he said. “They kept silent, they didn't warn us. Now we need a lockdown. Or at least very severe measures.”
Italy on Sunday was one of the first countries to announce a strict ban on travel from the UK, after British authorities said the new coronavirus strain was “out of control”.
Ricciardi argued that all flights from the UK must now be stopped throughout Europe.
Around 40 countries worldwide have now imposed travel restrictions on the UK in a bid to stem the spread of the new variant. Some EU member states have yet to do so, while others have imposed short-term restrictions while they evaiuate the risk.
One person in Italy was confirmed on Sunday to be infected with the new strain, while several other cases are suspected.
“At Christmas there is a risk of a new surge,” Ricciardi warned, despite further restrictions announced across the country last week which effectively amount to lockdown over Christmas, New Year and Epiphany.
“The containment measures must last longer. At least a month, a month and a half”, Ricciardi said.
He added that it would now be “difficult”  to reopen schools on January 7th as planned.
The Italian government has not given any indication that it is planning to impose any further restrictions.
Health minister Roberto Speranza said on Sunday that the flight ban is a “precautionary measure” advised by Italy's scientific experts while they try to “understand the extent of the problem”.
Patrick Vallance, scientific advisor to the British government, said on Monday that the new strain is spreading rapidly and is becoming the dominant strain of the virus in the south of England.
By December, he said, it was already responsible for more than 60 per cent of infections in London.
Ricciardi said the new strain “is not any more lethal, but circulates more than 70-80 percent faster”. However he said it does not seem to have affected “the protective capacity of the vaccine “.
Italian health experts agreed on Monday that Covid-19 vaccines currently being approved for use in Europe will still be effective against this and other new strains of the coronavirus.

“There had already been variants in the recent past and there may be others in the future,” Francesco Vaia, the health director at Rome's Spallanzani infectious diseases hospital, told the Ansa news agency.
“As things are, this does not mean the illness has become worse or more lethal. The vaccine has not been put into doubt.”

CALENDAR: How Italy's rules will change throughout Christmas and New Year

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WHO expects more monkeypox-related deaths in Europe

The World Health Organization's European office said Saturday that more monkeypox-related deaths can be expected, following reports of the first fatalities outside Africa, while stressing that severe complications were still be rare.

WHO expects more monkeypox-related deaths in Europe

“With the continued spread of monkeypox in Europe, we will expect to see more deaths,” Catherine Smallwood, Senior Emergency Officer at WHO Europe, said in a statement.

Smallwood emphasised that the goal needs to be “interrupting transmission quickly in Europe and stopping this outbreak”.

However, Smallwood stressed that in most cases the disease heals itself without the need for treatment.

“The notification of deaths due to monkeypox does not change our assessment of the outbreak in Europe. We know that although self-limiting in most cases, monkeypox can cause severe complications,” Smallwood noted.

The Spanish health ministry recorded a second monkeypox-related death on Saturday, a day after Spain and Brazil reported their first fatalities.

The announcements marked what are thought to be the first deaths linked to the current outbreak outside Africa.

Spanish authorities would not give the specific cause of death for the fatalities pending the outcome of an autopsy, while Brazilian authorities underlined that the man who died had “other serious conditions”.

“The usual reasons patients might require hospital care include help in managing pain, secondary infections, and in a small number of cases the need to manage life-threatening complications such as encephalitis,” Smallwood explained.

According to the WHO, more than 18,000 cases have been detected throughout the world outside of Africa since the beginning of May, with the majority of them in Europe.

The WHO last week declared the monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency.

As cases surge globally, the WHO on Wednesday called on the group currently most affected by the virus — men who have sex with men — to limit their sexual partners.

Early signs of the disease include a high fever, swollen lymph glands and a chickenpox-like rash.

The disease usually heals by itself after two to three weeks, sometimes taking a month.

A smallpox vaccine from Danish drug maker Bavarian Nordic, marketed under the name Jynneos in the United States and Imvanex in Europe, has also been found to protect against monkeypox.