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

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

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
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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ENERGY

Italy to have enough gas ‘to make it through winter’

Italy’s current gas stocks should suffice for the upcoming winter but the government should be wary of unforeseen supply-chain issues, says ENI CEO Claudio Descalzi.

Italy to have enough gas 'to make it through winter'

Despite recent issues regarding Russian supplies, Italy should have enough gas to make it through the winter, said Claudio Descalzi, the CEO of Italian energy giant ENI, on Thursday.

“Russian gas has effectively been replaced” and the current conditions should afford the country some “tranquillity” ahead of the winter season, he added.

READ ALSO: Russia will resume gas deliveries to Italy, Gazprom says 

Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, gas from Moscow accounted for about 40 percent of Italy’s annual gas imports. 

At the present time, however, Russian gas only contributes to around 10 percent of the country’s demand, with deliveries sitting around “10-15 million cubic metres per day”, said Descalzi.

Logo of Russian energy giant Gazprom.

Russian gas, which is supplied by energy giant Gazprom, currently accounts for only 10 percent of Italian gas imports, down from 40 percent. Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

ENI’s CEO also expressed contentment over the country’s gas-storing efforts, saying that national stocks “will soon be completely full” – according to the latest available indications, 90 percent of them have already been filled up. 

Descalzi’s words of reassurance came only a day after Russian energy giant Gazprom resumed gas deliveries to Italy. 

As previously reported by The Local, the supply of Russian gas to Rome had been suspended last Saturday due to disagreements over contractual obligations between Gazprom and Austrian energy regulator E-Control.

The incident had raised reasonable fears of a long-term suspension of Russian gas supplies, with Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani and Descalzi both stepping in over the weekend to reassure citizens about Italy’s gas reserves.

That said, despite the relative stability of Italy’s current energy status, a measure of uncertainty still lingers on. 

Descalzi himself admitted on Thursday that “technical issues on the part of suppliers” or an “exceptionally cold winter” might cause problems for Italy’s energy plans.

That’s why, he said, “regasification plants are so vital for next year’s winter” and to give further stability to the system.  

Two workers ride bicycles at the Barcelona's Enagas regasification plant.

Regasification plants will be vital to Italy’s plans to rely on liquefied natural gas supplies in the future. Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP

READ ALSO: What does the shut-off of Russian gas supplies mean for Italy?

Briefly, though Italy has chosen to bet heavily on Algerian gas in order to wean itself off Russian supplies – Algeria will supply Rome with as many as nine billion cubic metres of gas next year – the country will also receive a total of four billion cubic metres of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) from different African partners over the course of 2023.

Regasification plants, which essentially work to convert liquid gas to its gaseous state, will then be essential to unlock the potential of the new LNG supplies. 

Italy currently has three active regasification plants, but the construction of a fourth one near Piombino, Tuscany is now under consideration.

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