Covid-19: Italy says 70 percent of population vaccinated with first dose is ‘comforting’

Italian authorities have now administered 73 million shots, meaning that 70 percent of the Italian population over 12 years old have received their first jab, the government announced on Thursday.

Covid-19: Italy says 70 percent of population vaccinated with first dose is 'comforting'

Over 65 percent of the Italian population is now fully vaccinated, according to the latest government figures, making some 35.2 million people over 12 years old.

This, along with the amount of people partially immunised, is “a great result” and the data paints “a comforting picture”, stated the Italian government.

Authorities pointed to certain age groups as a measure of the vaccination campaign’s success, with over 91 percent of the over-80s now fully vaccinated.

READ ALSO: Which parts of Italy could be declared Covid risk zones in August?

However, this means that some 203,000 80-89 year-olds still haven’t received a single dose, according to the health data.

For the 70-79 year-olds over 86 percent are now fully vaccinated, more than 80 percent for the 60-69 age group and over 71 percent among the 50-59 year-olds.

The news is “a very encouraging result,” wrote health Minister Roberto Speranza on his Facebook profile.

“We must continue on this path, because vaccines are the best tool to begin a new season. Thanks to all the team working every day towards this goal in every corner of the country,” he added.

The data comes after Italy’s coronavirus emergency commissioner Francesco Figliuolo said young people between 12 and 18 years old will be able to get their vaccine doses without booking from August 16th.

Experts are behind ramping up vaccination efforts as Italy is in its fourth wave of coronavirus driven by the Delta variant.

Massimo Galli, director of the infectious diseases clinic at Milan’s Sacco Hospital,  told Sky TG24’s news show ‘Buongiorno‘. earlier this week there’s a need for updated vaccines “in order to really fight the disease”.

READ ALSO: Italy says 99 percent of Covid deaths weren’t fully vaccinated

And instead of seeing the over-50s vaccination data as “comforting”, he claimed that those in this age group who haven’t yet been vaccinated “need to be convinced” to get immunised.

In a further move to increase vaccinations, the Italian government has extended its ‘green pass‘ requirement to access many leisure and cultural sites across Italy – a decision which has both caused protests and increased vaccine bookings.

There were 7,270 new cases recorded on Thursday for the previous 24 hours, according to data from the Ministry of Health. This is compared to 6,968 on Wednesday.

Sicily has seen the greatest increase in cases with 1,134, followed by Tuscany with 876 and Lombardy with 679.

The positivity rate is 3.3 percent, stable compared to yesterday’s 3 percent.

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Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.