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HEALTH

Four regions in Italy at risk of new restrictions as coronavirus cases rise

Italy's rising infection rate fuelled by the highly transmissable Delta variant could see some regions reintroduce measures in the coming weeks, if the health data continues on its current trajectory.

Four regions in Italy at risk of new restrictions as coronavirus cases rise
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Four out of Italy’s 20 regions could lose their lowest-risk ‘white’ zone classification and move back into a low-moderate risk ‘yellow’ zone, according to Italian media predictions based on the latest health figures.

Although not yet confirmed by Italian authorities, Sicily, Campania, Marche and Abruzzo are the regions thought at risk of moving back into the yellow zone.

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

This means they could face restrictions again after several weeks in the ‘white’ zone, where almost all measures have been dropped.

Italy’s overall infection rate rose slightly last week, the latest monitoring report from Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS) showed, reversing a downward trend that had lasted 15 consecutive weeks.

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza told journalists on Monday that an increase in cases had been expected, saying: “As is known, we monitor all the data weekly, we expected a rise, this rise is underway but with lower numbers than in the past.”

On the question of whether some regions will face new restrictions, he said, “As we have always done, we will rely on our team of technical experts who continue to do this verification work, we will see step by step how things are going.”

The ISS report on Friday showed that these four regions recorded the most dramatic increase in incidence rates.

The incidence rate of cases per 100,000 inhabitants for Italy as a whole increased from 9 to 11, with significant differences between the regions.

Sicily reported 18.2, Marche 15.9, Campania 15.7 and Abruzzo 15.5.

The Marche region in particular showed a sharp increase compared to the previous week’s figure of 6.9.

With a worsening and changing health situation, the parameters that determine the classification of regions into zones could change, reports Italian news agency Ansa.

Photo: Gianluca Chininea / AFP

Regions only qualify for the low-risk ‘white’ zone status if they have fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

If this is exceeded, a region automatically becomes a ‘yellow’ zone in order to reduce pressure on Italy’s health system.

The yellow band is the second-lowest in Italy’s four-tier system of health restrictions. Precautionary measures in place under this tier include the requirement to wear masks at all times in public, which is eased outdoors in white zones.

Covid-19: When do you still need to wear a mask in Italy?

The health ministry’s zone classification is based on two main factors: incidence rate (the number of new cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the past week) and occupancy of hospital beds.

However, deputy health minister Pierpaolo Sileri told Radio 24 in an interview: “At the moment I do not see, with the current numbers, the need for a return to the yellow zone for some regions. To date there is no such risk, but let’s see what happens in the coming weeks.”

“We have low numbers and I do not see the return of restrictions at the moment ,” he added.

Andrea Costa, a health ministry official, echoed Sileri’s comments: “Today we have to look not so much at contagions, but at hospital admissions. The hope and wish is that Italy remains white, but we need to evaluate the data on a daily and weekly basis.”

“To date, the data does not suggest a change of colour,” Costa told RaiNews 24.

Among all regions, the greatest daily increase in cases are reported in Lazio (172), followed by Sicily (150), Emilia Romagna (118), Lombardy (95), Veneto (76), Campania (69), Tuscany (66) and Sardinia (51).

In the other regions the increase was of less than 20 cases.

Italy’s epidemiological situation is taking a downward turn after months of improvement and health officials are warning that the Delta variant could become prevalent within days.

This variant, together with the Kappa strain, accounts for nearly 28 percent of new infections in Italy compared to 5 percent in May, according to the ISS.

The Alpha variant is still dominant in Italy, but is decreasing according to officials, now accounting for almost 58 percent of total coronavirus cases – a drop of 30 percent.

New cases are mainly among those who are unvaccinated or have only had their first dose, the ISS stated.

For further details on the current coronavirus situation in Italy, see the Health Ministry’s website (in English).

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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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