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HEALTH

Coronavirus: Italy could be ‘back to normality in 7-15 months’, says health official

Giovanni Rezza, the health ministry's director of prevention, said on Tuesday that Italy should be able to return to some form of normality “within seven to 15 months” if it can administer 240,000 Covid-19 vaccinations a day.

Coronavirus: Italy could be ‘back to normality in 7-15 months’, says health official
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

“We recently developed a mathematical model with the Higher Health Institute (ISS) and the Fondazione Bruno Kessler to see when we will be able to return to pseudo-normality,” Rezza told the Senate’s health and hygiene committee, according to Italian state broadcaster Rai.

READ ALSO: How and when can you get a Covid-19 vaccine in Italy?

“Assuming that the vaccine will protect from infection and that the vaccination is effective for at least two years, by vaccinating 240,000 people a day we will manage to return to normality in seven to 15 months.”

“This can be obtained with a high number of vaccinations and keeping up containment (of the coronavirus),” he said.

Doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine at a hub for Covid-19 vaccinations in Rome’s Fiumicino airport. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP)

Under a recently-unveiled plan to speed up vaccinations in the coming months, Italy’s government says it aims to administer 56 million doses by June.

Italy is currently vaccinating around 110,000 people per day, and aims to increase this to 200,000 by the end of March for a total of 6.2 million doses this month,

The number is set to rise to 400 thousand per day in April (12 million per month), 500 thousand in May (15.5 million) and 600 thousand in June (18 million).

To facilitate this acceleration, the government reportedly plans to increase the number of vaccination sites in Italy to 2,000. These are expected to be operational by April.

“Today vaccinations are increasing,” Rezza said. “The number of available doses will certainly increase in the second half of the quarter 2021.”

“We now have three (approved vaccines),” he added. “By April we will probably have the fourth and others will arrive in a few months.”

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“In the second quarter of 2021 there will be many more doses than in the first quarter, and we will see the extension both of the number of vaccinators and of people who can be vaccinated.”

As hospital intensive care units are again coming under pressure, the government is also considering increased nationwide restrictions, from extending the current evening curfew to a national lockdown, according to media reports.

Additional measures could be announced by Friday if the infection rate rises again this week.

READ ALSO: Lockdown by next week? These are the new Covid restrictions Italy is considering 

However, the government is reportedly split over what form of additional curbs to introduce.

Rezza stressed to the Senate committee the importance of controlling infections during the vaccine roll-out.

“Containing the most dangerous variants today and mitigating the progress of the epidemic is essential to protect the vaccination campaign,” he said.

“The variants are very insidious. We have estimated that the English variant alone results in an increase in transmissibility between 35 and 36 percent.”

“The Brazilian also slightly reduces the effectiveness of the vaccine. So it is necessary to counteract the variants in every way.”

“Containing and vaccinating is the recipe.” 

Further studies need to be carried out before it is known precisely how effective the vaccines are, he said.

“We know that there is a high efficacy for most vaccines, but we do not know if they protect against the disease, or if they block transmission, which is important to know to understand if it can achieve herd immunity.”

“Furthermore, we do not know the duration of protection and the effect of variants on efficacy.” 

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COVID-19 RULES

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

The new Italian government has announced the end of some remaining Covid health measures. Here's a look at what will - and won't - change.

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

Few Covid-related restrictions remain in Italy today, six months after the nationwide ‘state of emergency’ ended.

The previous government had kept only a handful of precautionary measures in place – which the new government, led by Giorgia Meloni, must now decide whether or not to keep.

The cabinet is holding a meeting on Monday and will issue a decree this week detailing any changes to the health measures.

Many expect the government to scrap all measures entirely by the end of the year, after Meloni and her party criticised the way Mario Draghi’s administration handled the pandemic throughout its tenure. 

Meloni clearly stated in her first address to parliament last Tuesday that “we will not replicate the model of the previous government” when it comes to managing Covid.

READ ALSO: Five key points from Meloni’s first speech as new Italian PM

While she acknowledged that Italy could be hit by another Covid wave, or another pandemic, she did not say how her government would deal with it.

Meanwhile, new health minister Orazio Schillaci issued a statement on Friday confirming the end of several existing measures, saying he “considers it appropriate to initiate a progressive return to normality in activities and behaviour”.

Workplace ban for unvaccinated medical staff

Schillaci confirmed that the ministry will allow doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to return to work after being suspended because they refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Those who refuse vaccination will be “reintegrated” into the workforce before the rule expires at the end of this year, as part of what the minister called a “gradual return to normality”.

They will be allowed to return “in light of the worrying shortage of medical and health personnel” and “considering the trend of Covid infections”, the statement said.

Fines issued to healthcare staff aged over 50 who refused vaccination would also be cancelled, it added.

There were some 1,579 doctors and dentists refusing vaccination at the end of October, representing 0.3 percent of all those registered with Italy’s National Federation of the Orders of Physicians, Surgeons and Dentists (Fnomceo) 

Daily Covid data reports

Schillaci also confirmed in the statement that the health ministry will no longer release daily updates on Covid-19 contagion rates, hospital cases and deaths, saying this would be replaced by a weekly update.

It said it would however make the data available at any time to relevant authorities.

Mask requirement in hospitals to stay?

The requirement to wear face masks in hospitals, care homes and other healthcare facilities expires on Monday, October 31st.

At a meeting on the same day the government is expected to decide whether to extend the measure.

READ ALSO: What can we expect from Italy’s new government?

While the government had looked at scrapping the requirement, it reportedly changed stance at the last minute on Monday after facing heavy criticism from health experts.

Media reports published while the meeting was in progress on Monday said government sources had indicated the measure would in fact be extended.

Confirmation is expected to come later on Monday.

Italy’s face mask rules in care homes and healthcare facilities are up for renewal. Photo by Thierry ZOCCOLAN / AFP

‘Green pass’ health certificate

There is no indication that the new government plans to bring back any requirements to show a ‘green pass’: the digital certificate proving vaccination against or recent recovery from Covid, or a negative test result.

The pass is currently only required for entry to healthcare facilities and care homes, and this is expected to remain the case.

‘Dismantling the measures’

Some of the confirmed changes were strongly criticised by Italy’s most prominent healthcare experts.

Head of the Gimbe association for evidence-based medicine, Nino Cartabellotta, said the focus on cancelling fines for unvaccinated healthcare workers was “irrelevant from a health point of view .. but unscientific and highly diseducative”.

He told news agency Ansa it was “absolutely legitimate” for a new government to discontinue the previous administration’s measures, but that this “must also be used to improve everything that the previous government was unable to do”.

The government should prioritise “more analytical collection of data on hospitalised patients, investments in ventilation systems for enclosed rooms … accelerating coverage with vaccine boosters,” he said.

However, the plan at the moment appeared to be “a mere dismantling of the measures in place,” he said, “in the illusory attempt to consign the pandemic to oblivion, ignoring the recommendations of the international public health authorities”.

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