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HEALTH

Wealthier Italian regions announce plans to buy more vaccine doses

Five northern Italian regions have announced that they intend to purchase millions of additional doses of Covid-19 vaccines on top of those provided under the national and European vaccination programme.

Wealthier Italian regions announce plans to buy more vaccine doses
Photo: AFP

In recent days, the administrations of Veneto, Piedmont, Lombardy, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Emilia Romagna – among the wealthiest of Italy's 20 regions – have announced plans to purchase more vaccines

READ ALSO: Italy to start vaccinating over-55s and key workers this month under updated plan

Luca Zaia, president of the Veneto region, said on Monday he was waiting for Italy's central government to authorise a bid for his region to buy up to 27 million vaccine doses from unnamed producers, according to Italian media reports.

“I have two offers for the purchase of vaccines, one for 15 million and one for 12 million doses,” he said. “These are vials authorized by the EMA (European Medicines Agency), proposed by verified intermediaries, with prices in line with those agreed by the EU with Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna.”
 
Veneto's healthcare chief, Luciano Flor, said: “the draft contracts are ready and can be closed in three to four days. The suppliers assure us that the doses would arrive in less than a month.”
 
While Italy has a national vaccination plan in place, timing and schedules vary by regional authority. This is due the country's highly decentralised system, which means each region manages its own healthcare system.
 
Under the regional system however, Italy has long had a problem with inequality between richer and poorer regions when it comes to healthcare provision and funding.
 
In Calabria, the country's poorest region, serious problems with funding and managing the coronavirus emergency response mean a war relief charity has been drafted in.
 
The symbol of Italy's vaccine programme on the floor of a health centre in Lombardy. Photo: AFP
 
Zaia insisted the Veneto region's bid to purchase more vaccines was “not a separatist move, but cooperative”.
 
He said Veneto has submitted its bids to coronavirus emergency commissioner, Domenico Arcuri, for approval.
 
 
The announcement from northern regions came as the government, led by former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, took office over the weekend.
 
Draghi is expected to outline the new government's plans for managing the coronavirus crisis when he speaks in the Senate this week.
 
He has already indicated that controlling the spread of new virus variants is a priority for the new government, along with speeding up the mass vaccination campaign.

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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.