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HEALTH

Covid-19: Three Italian regions turn ‘white’ as case numbers continue to fall

Several of Italy's regions are allowed to drop most Covid-19 restrictions from Monday, as new cases and deaths in the country have fallen to a seven-month low.

Covid-19: Three Italian regions turn 'white' as case numbers continue to fall
Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP
Three Italian regions – Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Molise and Sardinia – are under ‘white zone’ rules from Monday 31st May, following the latest ordinance signed by the health minister on Friday.
 
Abruzzo, Veneto, Liguria and Umbria will turn white the week after, the government has said.
 
These regions are being downgraded from ‘yellow zone’ risk status to ‘white’ as planned, as the health data continues to improve across the country.

Under ‘white zone’ restrictions, regions can drop most of the restrictions currently in place in yellow zones, including the evening curfew and the restrictions on opening hours for businesses, including restaurants.

EXPLAINED: How has Italy changed the way it decides regional Covid-19 rules?

Photo by Marco Bertorello / AFP

The regions moving into white zones will be able to drop the last remaining restrictions, and reopen indoor restaurants and bars, fairs, theme parks, conferences and indoor swimming pools and hold weddings earlier than planned under the national roadmap for reopening.

So far, only mask-wearing and social distancing rules must remain in place in white zones, the health minister has said.

For now, nightclubs and discos are still suspended and it is not known if or when Italy may relax the rules on wearing masks outdoors.

And the final set of rules in each region depends on the local authority, as each is free to impose stricter restrictions than those set by the national government.

The regions moving into the low-restriction white zone have registered fewer than 50 coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants for three weeks consecutively – the threshold for determining white zone eligibility.

In fact, they have all hit very low levels with the figure at 17 for Friuli-Venezia-Giulia 13 for Sardinia and 12 in Molise.

MAP: Which parts of Italy will become Covid-19 ‘white zones’ in June?

All indicators in the nation’s latest weekly coronavirus monitoring report, compiled by Italian health ministry and the Higher Health Institute (ISS), showed another decrease in the coronavirus numbers.

The national average weekly coronavirus incidence rate and Rt number had fallen again, while the average daily number of new coronavirus cases is now below 4,000 for the first time since October 10th, the latest data showed on Friday.

Italy on Sunday recorded 44 deaths from Covid-19, the lowest daily tally in more than seven months as the country continues to make progress with its coronavirus vaccinations.

READ ALSO: Italy’s coronavirus infection rate falls to lowest level since October

Though the reported numbers are always lower on Sundays and Mondays, this is the lowest number of deaths since October 14th, when the country had 43 fatalities.

Italy’s total death toll from the pandemic now stands at 126,046, according to Civil Protection Agency and Health Ministry data.

The number of people with an active coronavirus infection fell by 3,670 to 236,296, another seven-month low.

Meanwhile, Italy has now administered 34.2 million vaccine doses and 11.8 million people – nearly 20 percent of the population – have been fully vaccinated, the government said.

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MONKEYPOX

Semen ‘a vehicle’ for monkeypox infection, say Italian health experts

Researchers in Italy who were first to identify the presence of monkeypox in semen are broadening their testing, saying early results suggest sperm can transmit infection.

Semen 'a vehicle' for monkeypox infection, say Italian health experts

A team at Rome’s Spallanzani Hospital, which specialises in infectious diseases, revealed in a study published on June 2nd that the virus DNA was detected in semen of three out of four men diagnosed with monkeypox.

They have since expanded their work, according to director Francesco Vaia, who said researchers have found the presence of monkeypox in the sperm of 14 infected men out of 16 studied.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How is Italy dealing with rising monkeypox cases?

“This finding tells us that the presence of the virus in sperm is not a rare or random occurrence,” Vaia told AFP in an interview.

He added: “The infection can be transmitted during sexual intercourse by direct contact with skin lesions, but our study shows that semen can also be a vehicle for infection.”

Researchers at Spallanzani identified Italy’s first cases of monkeypox, found in two men who had recently returned from the Canary Islands.

The latest results reported by Vaia have not yet been published or subject to peer review.

Since early May, a surge of monkeypox cases has been detected outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic. Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.

More than 3,400 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the World Health Organisation from more than 50 countries this year.

The vast majority of cases so far have been observed in men who have sex with men, of young age, chiefly in urban areas, in “clustered social and sexual networks”, according to the WHO.

It is investigating cases of semen testing positive for monkeypox, but has maintained the virus is primarily spread through close contact.

Meg Doherty, director of the WHO’s global HIV, hepatitis and sexually-transmitted infection programmes, said last week: “We are not calling this a sexually-transmitted infection.”

Could antivirals curb the spread of monkeypox?

Spallanzani researchers are now trying to ascertain how long the virus is present in sperm after the onset of symptoms.

In one patient, virus DNA was detected three weeks after symptoms first appeared, even after lesions had disappeared – a phenomenon Vaia said had been seen in the past in viral infections such as Zika.

That could indicate that the risk of transmission of monkeypox could be lowered by the use of condoms in the weeks after recovery, he said.

The Spallanzani team is also looking at vaginal secretions to study the presence of the virus.

A significant finding from the first study was that when the virus was cultured in the lab, it was “present in semen as a live, infectious virus efficient in reproducing itself”, Vaia told AFP.

Vaia cautioned that there remained many unanswered questions on monkeypox, including whether antiviral therapies could shorten the time in which people with the virus could infect others.

Another is whether the smallpox vaccine could protect people from the monkeypox virus.

“To study this we will analyse people who were vaccinated 40 years ago before human smallpox was declared to have disappeared,” Vaia said.

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