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 face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”