Coronavirus: Italian health minister urges caution as Delta variant fuels increase in new cases

Italian health authorities have reported a slight increase in new confirmed coronavirus infections this week, reversing a 15-week trend.

Coronavirus: Italian health minister urges caution as Delta variant fuels increase in new cases
Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

The infection rate is on the rise in Italy due to an increase in the spread of the Delta variant, according to a draft of the weekly coronavirus monitoring report from the health ministry and Higher Health Institute (ISS) published on Friday.

Data from the past week showed that the nation’s Rt number, which shows the rate of transmission, had risen slightly to 0.66 from 0.63 last week.

The incidence rate of cases per 100,000 inhabitants was also up from 9 to 11.

READ ALSO: Italian schools set to keep using masks and distancing from September

The report confirmed that a growing number of cases were being attributed to the Delta variant in Italy.

While European health authorities expect the more infectious strain to become “dominant” on the continent by the end of summer, at the moment in Italy it is estimated to account for around a third of cases.

Analysis of the data by Italy’s evidence-based medicines agency Gimbe showed that this was the first time the number of new cases had risen since it began falling in March.

“After 15 consecutive weeks of descent, there is an increase of 5% in new cases compared to the previous week. Testing activity, after 7 weeks of decline, shows an increase of 15.5%,” wrote Gimbe head Dr Nino Cartabellotta in the foundation’s report.

But he stressed that the amount of testing carried out was “too low” and said contact tracing in Italy was still “insufficient”, leading to “underestimation of new cases”.

The number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 and the number of deaths continues to fall across the country, the latest report confirmed.

While the number of new cases had risen overall in Italy, it was still falling in ten regions, the data showed.

Numbers had risen week-on-week in the regions of Abruzzo, Campania, Liguria, Lombardy, Marche, Sardinia, Sicily, Tuscany, Veneto, and the autonomous provinces of Trento and Bolzano.

Many European countries have reported a recent increase in new cases fuelled by the more infectious Delta variant, which was first detected in India.

However the European average infection rate currently remains far lower than that in the UK, where a new wave of contagions fuelled by the variant began in early June.

Italian health minister Roberto Speranza stressed on Thursday that “the pandemic is not over” and urged people to show “great prudence and caution, particularly due to variants.”

He said Italy’s health situation was “considerably better than what we have known in previous months, but we must keep our guard up”. 

READ ALSO: When do you still need to wear a mask in Italy?

Asked by reporters whether Italy would consider further lowering restrictions as the British government has promised to do as of July 19th, Speranza responded: “We’ve chosen the line of gradualness and of taking it step by step with great caution. And for us this line has borne fruit “

Most of Italy’s nationwide coronavirus measures have been relaxed since June 28th, when every region was declared a low-risk ‘white’ zone.

However, some rules still remain in place including those on social distancing as well as some restrictions on venue capacity and private parties. Masks must still be worn in all indoor public places and in crowded outdoor areas.

So far, Italy has fully vaccinated some 22 million people, or 41 percent of the population aged over 12, the official figures showed on Friday.

Italy continues to administer around half a million vaccine doses daily.

Member comments

  1. It is doing what all respiratory virus’s do. It mutants to be more contagious and less deadly. It is here to stay and we need to live with it. From pandemic to endemic

  2. It’s no longer about the number of cases, but the number of hospitalizations with serious complications. People have had enough of isolation, useless masks, restaurant restrictions. Look at some of the states in USA where they have never gone into strict lockdown and that abolished mask mandates months ago. Although the numbers of cases were high, their mortality rates were some of the lowest and, just as important, their economies did not tank. Bill C is spot-on.

  3. I don’t think the United States is an example of how to manage a public health crisis. The US system is a dysfunctional mess. There seems to be a lot of back seat drivers who want to tell the pilots how to fly their planes. I’ve been back and forth from the US to Italy 3 times during the past year. The airports in the United States are filthy and quarantine enforcement is non-existant. The only thing the US has done better is vaccinations, and that was achieved by paying a lot more money per dose than the EU, which caused shortages in Italy.Real medical research is done in a laboratory, not on a cell phone.

  4. I would like to thank The Local for helping me navigate all the temporary hurdles to traveling to Italy. We will be arriving in Lucca next week from Los Angeles followed by a week in Liguria. Planning has been a challenge this time around. I am grateful that for the past 2 months – – I have had The Local to wake up to. Y’all have been a big help! By the way, the genesis for this trip was an article I read about the Festa de la Mare in Levanto in 2019. We planned a trip around the festa in 2020. That was not to be. Does anyone have any idea whether a scaled down version of the festa will take place July 24-25? We are into pageantry, music, flag throwing and wine!

    Bradley Gold
    Los Angeles, California

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Italy’s deputy health minister under fire after casting doubt on 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 after casting doubt on Covid vaccines

Gemmato, a 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.