Italy’s schools are at risk of new Covid closures, says health expert

Italy's schools are at risk of new Covid closures, says health expert
Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP
As millions of pupils returned to school for the new academic year, the first classes and students have already been placed in isolation, threatening Italy's plans to keep schools open and teaching fully in person, according to the president of Italy's health watchdog.

“The government’s goal of ensuring 100 percent school attendance is in danger of being disregarded, as evidenced by the number of classes and students already in quarantine,” stated Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe foundation for evidence-based medicine, on Tuesday.

His comments come only a week after Italy’s education minister, Patrizio Bianchi, insisted that “schools will be the last thing to close in the country” as the first students went back to school.

But Cartabellotta has criticised the government’s approach to reopening schools after summer, saying, “It is a very risky strategy to focus exclusively on vaccination without systematic screening and systemic interventions on ventilation, aeration and transport management.”

READ ALSO: Italy outlines plan to resist new Covid closures as students return to school

Vaccination has been high on the the authorities’ agenda, with the government making the Covid-19 health pass compulsory for teachers, and all staff who work in schools such as canteen staff and cleaning companies, as well as parents picking up and dropping off schoolchildren on the premises.

The health certificate proves bearers have been vaccinated with at least one dose, have recovered from Covid-19 within the past six months, or have tested negative in the previous 48 hours.

Italy’s health authorities also stepped up efforts to get younger people vaccinated ahead of the new school year, with many regions offering the jab without appointment to under-19s.

Over half of 12-19 year-olds have completed the full vaccination cycle, according to the latest government figures.

READ ALSO: Almost all hospitalised Covid-19 patients in Italy are unvaccinated, says health watchdog

Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Ministers have discussed the possibility of ending the requirement to wear masks for fully-vaccinated classes – a plan Gimbe doesn’t support.

“The hypothesis of abandoning masks even if everyone is vaccinated in the classroom is not based on any scientific evidence,” said Cartabellotta.

EXPLAINED: What parents should know about the new Covid rules in Italian schools

He said studies have proven the efficacy of masks, which “reduce the risk of contagion even if all students are vaccinated by 50% for low immunity, 35% for medium immunity and 24% for high immunity”.

He added that where the Delta variant is concerned, referring to it as simply ‘la variante’, these percentages rise to 70% to 57% and 41%.

Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS) reported in its latest weekly monitoring bulletin that the Alpha variant has largely disappeared, while Delta continues to be the prevalent strain.

Over the last 45 days in Italy, 88.7% of swabs have tested positive for the Delta variant.

However, with younger pupils currently unable to be vaccinated, the debate continues over which safety measures the government should keep in place in classrooms.

Pfizer-BioNTech announced on Monday that trials had found its Covid-19 vaccine was safe for use on the 5-11 age group, however some health experts remain hesistant.

“It is still too early. There are no unambiguous indications from the scientific community to vaccinate this sensitive population,” Francesco Vaia, director of the Spallanzani Institute for infectious diseases told reporters on Wednesday.

“We must avoid chasing the press releases of companies. Common sense says let’s wait, let’s hold on, let’s see,” Vaia added.

He said he’d agree to the rollout of a vaccine for younger children only once the international and national regulatory authorities approve it and “take responsibility”.

Italy continues to push to meet its stated target of vaccinating 80 percent of the population by the end of September.

Almost 77% of the Italian population over 12 are now fully vaccinated, following a surge in appointment bookings – as well as jabs administered without appointment – following last week’s announcement of the latest extension of the green pass requirement, making it mandatory in all workplaces from October 15th.


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