Delta variant in Italy will be ‘prevalent within 10 days’: health official

As the summer season gets underway and crowds gather to watch Italy play in major sporting events, the country needs to brace itself for an upturn in new coronavirus infections, the Italian deputy health minister said on Monday.

Delta variant in Italy will be 'prevalent within 10 days': health official
Sporting events draw crowds - and risk new surges in the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP)

The euphoria of Italy fans seeing their national football team claim the Euro 2020 title could soon be dampened as the effect of social gatherings makes itself felt, Pierpaolo Sileri told Radio 24 in an interview.

“It’s great to see people in the squares, but we will inevitably see the number of infections rise. The Delta variant will spread and become dominant sooner than expected,” said Sileri.

“I fear by the end of the month [there will be] three to four times the contagions that we have today,” he warned.

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

Sileri predicts that the Delta variant of coronavirus will overtake the currently dominant Alpha variant within just ten days, he told newspaper La Stampa

He echoed recent warnings from the WHO, saying the trend would be partially accelerated by people gathering in large numbers to watch football and tennis matches.

With a potential resurgence in cases, some lockdown measures could be reintroduced.

“There is no need to reinstate the obligation to wear a mask outdoors, but controls should be strengthened in case of gatherings,” said Sileri.

“We need constant vigilance, we need to strengthen controls in nightlife areas, because where you don’t keep your distance you have to wear a mask, otherwise sanctions must be applied.”

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

He went on to say that Italy’s health situation could evolve in the same way that the UK’s did, claiming that the number of infections “will continue to grow” through the summer.

Italy is currently experiencing a rise in coronavirus cases due to the Delta variant after 15 weeks of falling figures, according to the latest weekly monitoring report by the Higher Health Institute (ISS), which reports that the Delta and Kappa strains together account for nearly 28 percent of new infections in Italy compared to 5 percent in May.

The health authorities say that new cases are mainly among those who are unvaccinated or have only had their first dose.

Over 44 percent of the population over 12 years old has been vaccinated, the latest government figures show, but “there will be a gradual increase in the number of people who have been vaccinated with a double dose, and by September we will be around 70 to 75 percent immunised,” according to Sileri.

READ ALSO: How many people in Italy still aren’t vaccinated?

Yet vaccinations alone aren’t enough, according to Andrea Crisanti, director of the department of microbiology at the University of Padua.

The Delta variant is “one step away from becoming vaccine-resistant, so the less it is transmitted the better,” he told Rai news. “I think we should combine the vaccination campaign and at the same time strengthen our tracking capacity,” he added.

Not only are vaccinations and tracing those who test positive for Covid-19 hoped to help stem the rise in new infections, but “some backward steps” also can’t be ruled out, Sileri said.

He hinted at a possible reinstatement of the country’s colour system in some regions. The various tiers of zones classify the level of health risk and set corresponding restrictions.

Supporters of the Italian national football team celebrate their teams’ first goal in the UEFA EURO 2020 final football match between England and Italy, at the Piazza del Popolo fanzone, in Rome on July 11, 2021. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

Italy’s 20 regions are all currently placed in the lowest-risk ‘white zones‘, where most restrictions have now been dropped. But Sileri said that they could be reintroduced and that authorities may even bring back the highest-risk red zones, which could be activated at a local level.

“However, we will have to refer to the number of hospitalisations rather than to the number of infections,” he added.

READ ALSO: Everything that changes in Italy in July 2021

“At the moment the number of infections is small and there is no need for some regions to return to the [low-medium risk] yellow zone. It is clear, however, that if we were to have an explosion of cases, admissions and hospital pressure, we would have to take a step back. Today there is no such risk,” he said.

But Maria van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist and Covid-19 technical lead at the WHO, sounded a more urgent alarm.

She described watching the final between Italy and England as “devastating” in a post on Twitter.

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza also voiced his worries about the consequences of people going on holiday and gathering to watch sporting events.

He said: “The European football championship and the Wimbledon tournament are over, and the Azzurri are the main players. It is a great joy after terrible months. Even in these moments of national pride we never forget that our ‘game’ to defeat Covid is not yet won,” reported news agency Ansa.

“Let’s support our champions responsibly, remembering the rules of spacing and using masks correctly,” he added.

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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.”