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Where and how much are coronavirus cases rising in Italy?

As Italian scientific experts warn that coronavirus cases are on the rise again, here's a closer look at which parts of the country are worst affected.

Where and how much are coronavirus cases rising in Italy?
The number of people testing positive for coronavirus in Italy is increasing. Photo: AFP

Coronavirus cases in Italy are now rising in large part due to the more infectious British variant, a top virologist warned this week.

“Obviously, I'm worried,” Massimo Galli, a specialist based at the Sacco de Milan hospital, told Il Messaggero on Monday.

READ ALSO: Italy's health minister says virus restrictions 'can't be relaxed' in March

“The resurgence in infections is due in large part to the English variant,” he added. “To be honest, all the data is going in the direction of a rise in new cases.”

A new study by Italy's National Research Council (CNR) points to variants as the likely source of up to 50 percent of the recent increase in cases.

Dr. Rosalio Corrado Spinella, director of the CNR's Department of Physical Sciences, told La Repubblica on Monday: “in the regions which have seen the most rapid increase in cases, such as Abruzzo, Marche, Tuscany and Umbria as well as in the autonomous provinces of Trento and Bolzano, the variants of Sars-Cov-2 may be responsible for between 40 and 50 percent of the total of positives,”

“This trend is increasing,” he warned, adding that: “Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy are starting to show an increase in hospitalized cases due to the presence of the more transmissible variants.”

Unless further containment measures are announced soon, Spinella said, “in regions where the variant is found to account for at least 50 percent of cases, the more contagious variant will almost completely replace the 'standard' version within a month and a half from today.”

Analysis of offical data on Wednsday showed that the regions and autonomous provinces which recorded the sharpest rise in cases over the past 24 hours were Bolzano, Trento, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Abruzzo.

Valle D'Aosta has the lowest rate of new infections, followed by Sardinia.

New coronavirus cases by region within the past 24 hours, as of Wednesday February 24th. Map: Antonio Caramia

The Italian health minister on Wednesday stated that the country would not be relaxing any rules under the next coronavirus emergency decree, due March 5th, as infection rates remain too high nationwide.

Restrictons need to stay in place while studies are carried out to determine the risks posed by new variants, he said.

MAP: Which zone is your region in under Italy's coronavirus rules?

Rising concerns about the spread of new virus strains have prompted a national debate about the need for more extensive containment measures.
 
Several leading Italian health experts have said a total lockdown is 'urgently' needed, while the government's own panel of scientific advisors has also recommended stricter measures.

As of Wednesday, Italy has registered 96,666 coronavirus deaths from 2.9 million cases.

You can follow all of The Local's latest updates on the coronavirus situation in Italy here.

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POLITICS

Italy’s deputy health minister under fire for questioning Covid vaccines

Opposition leaders called for health undersecretary Marcello Gemmato to resign on Tuesday after the official said he was not "for or against" vaccines.

Italy's deputy health minister under fire for questioning Covid vaccines

Gemmato, a trained pharmacist and member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party, made the remark during an appearance on the political talkshow ReStart on Rai 2 on Monday evening.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

In a widely-shared clip, the official criticises the previous government’s approach to the Covid pandemic, claiming that for a large part of the crisis Italy had the highest death rate and third highest ‘lethality’ rate (the proportion of Covid patients who died of the disease).

When journalist Aldo Cazzullo interjects to ask whether the toll would have been higher without vaccines, Gemmato responds: “that’s what you say,” and claimed: “We do not have the reverse burden of proof.”

The undersecretary goes on to say that he won’t “fall into the trap of taking a side for or against vaccines”.

After Gemmato’s comments, the president of Italy’s National Federation of Medical Guilds, Filippo Anelli, stressed that official figures showed the Italian vaccination campaign had already prevented some 150,000 deaths, slashing the country’s potential death toll by almost half.

Vaccines also prevented eight million cases of Covid-19, over 500,000 hospitalisations, and more than 55,000 admissions to intensive care, according to a report from Italy’s national health institute (ISS) in April 2021.

Gemmato’s comments provoked calls for him to step down, including from the head of the centre-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta.

“A health undersecretary who doesn’t take his distance from no-vaxxers is certainly in the wrong job” wrote the leader of the centrist party Action, Carlo Calenda, on Twitter.

Infectious disease expert Matteo Bassetti of Genoa’s San Martino clinic also expressed shock.

“How is it possible to say that there is no scientific proof that vaccines have helped save the lives of millions of people? You just have to read the scientific literature,” Bassetti tweeted. 

In response to the backlash, Gemmato on Tuesday put out a statement saying he believes “vaccines are precious weapons against Covid” and claiming that his words were taken out of context and misused against him.

The Brothers of Italy party was harshly critical of the previous government’s approach to handling the Covid crisis, accusing the former government of using the pandemic as an excuse to “limit freedom” through its use of the ‘green pass’, a proof of vaccination required to access public spaces. 

But since coming into power, Meloni appears to have significantly softened her stance.

Her appointee for health minister, Orazio Schillaci, is a medical doctor who formed part of the team advising the Draghi administration on its handling of the pandemic.

Schillaci, a former dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at Rome’s Tor Vergata University, has described the former government’s green pass scheme as an “indispensable tool for guaranteeing safety in university classrooms”.

Speaking at a session of the G20 on Tuesday, Meloni referenced the role of vaccines in bringing an end to the Covid pandemic.

“Thanks to the extraordinary work of health personnel, vaccines, prevention, and the accountability of citizens, life has gradually returned to normal,’ the prime minister said in a speech.

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