First Italian case of rare new Covid variant detected in Naples

Another new variant of the coronavirus has been found in Naples, the first known case in Italy of a strain so far spotted in the UK, Denmark, Nigeria and the US.

First Italian case of rare new Covid variant detected in Naples
On the seafront in Naples, where a lab detected the first known case in Italy of a new coronavirus variant. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The B.1.525 variant was detected in a person who had recently returned from a trip to a country in Africa, the Campania region announced on Tuesday. 

It is the first time the strain has been found in Italy, after it was first identified in the UK and Nigeria in December. Since then around 130 cases have been confirmed worldwide, including in Denmark, the US, Canada, France, Australia, Spain and a few other countries. 

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

Researchers say it has similarities to other variants that were first spotted in England, Brazil and South Africa and have since been found in countries around the world, including Italy. 

While those three variants are believed to be more contagious and more resistant to certain vaccines, it is not yet known what risk the B.1.525 strain poses.

“There is currently no evidence that this set of mutations causes more severe illness or increased transmissibility,” according to a statement by the public health authority in England, where the strain is classified as a “variant under investigation”. 

The more prevalent strain identified in the UK, B.1.1.7, now makes up 17.8 percent of new Covid-19 cases in Italy on average, estimates top Italian health agency the ISS. 

More than 500 cases have been publicly reported in Italy to date, mainly in Abruzzo and Lombardy.

MAPS: Where are the new Covid-19 variants spreading in Italy?

Around 20 cases of the Brazilian variant have been confirmed, mostly in Umbria, while at least two cases of the South African strain are known so far.

The committee of experts that advises Italy's government has called for tougher lockdown measures to “contain and slow” the spread of variants, with several prominent virologists saying current restrictions were not effective against the new strains.

Several towns and provinces where the variants have been detected have declared local lockdowns in a bid to stop them spreading further.

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Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”