Coronavirus: Italian health experts call for 'urgent' lockdown amid growing concern about variants

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Coronavirus: Italian health experts call for 'urgent' lockdown amid growing concern about variants
Bars and restaurants have been closed and reopened repeatedly since November under Italy's resrictions. Photo: AFP

Experts are increasingly calling for Italy's new government to bring in tough measures to combat the spread of new coronavirus variants.


The new Italian government, sworn in just two days ago, is facing growing calls to change the country's strategy for dealing with the pandemic - with leading health experts insisting that the current tiered system of regional restrictions is "ineffective".
The government's technical and scientific committee (CTS) on Monday urged ministers to follow the example of other European countries in implementing stricter measures.
The CTS called for measures similar to those taken by France and Germany to "contain and slow" the spread of new strains.
Under the previous government, restrictions in Italy were loosened in recent weeks. Health experts said Italy was "bucking the trend" while many other European countries tightened rules amid concern about variants.
New data from the country's top health agency, ISS, showed that the British variant of the coronavirus now represents, on average, 17.8 percent of new infections in Italy.


Virologist Andrea Crisanti, a member of the CTS, called for "a tough lockdown immediately, to prevent the English variant from becoming prevalent and to prevent it from having devastating effects like in England, Portugal and Israel," stressing that the current zone system was "not enough".

Walter Ricciardi, professor at Rome's Catholic University and also a member of the CTS, said it is now “urgent” for the new government “to immediately change the strategy to combat Sars-Cov-2”.


“It is clear that the strategy of coexistence with the virus, adopted so far, is ineffective and condemns us to instability, with a heavy number of deaths every day,” he told news agency Ansa.

Italy’s foundation for evidence-based medicine, GIMBE, welcomed the calls for stricter measures, with its head Nino Cartabellotta telling media on Monday that "a two-week total lockdown would bring the (contagion) curve down, enabling the resumption of track and trace".

Without a lockdown, the "whole of 2021 will be a continuous stop and go" of imposing and easing restrictions, he said.

Some politicians reacted angrily to the calls for stricter measures, with League leader Matteo Salvini blasting "experts who sow fear".

.READ ALSO: Where are the new Covid variants spreading in Italy?

Italy’s current regional tiered system of restrictions was first introduced in November 6th as an alternative to another lockdown.

In recent weeks many towns and provinces have been declaring their own local lockdowns or red zones in response to spikes in infection rates.

The CTS, which advises on - but does not decide - the rules, did not specify any particular measures to be implemented but called for reinforced restrictions to "contain and slow" the spread of variants.


It urged "rigorous compliance, reinforcement and increase of risk mitigation measures, both at a national level and in specific local environments".
Italy’s current set of coronavirus rules under the emergency decree is scheduled to be revised by March 5th.
There has been no comment from ministers so far on the new government's planned strategy for managing the pandemic.
However it has already blocked the planned reopening of ski slopes on Monday, causing anger among tour operators and local authorities.

The sudden about-turn was down to rising concerns about the spread of new coronavirus variants, according to the health ministry.



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