Italy’s fourth Covid wave ‘can be reduced’, says health expert

People walk in central Milan wearing face masks.
Italy is not planning to bring in any new Covid-19 health measures at the moment. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
As Covid-19 infection rates rise across Europe, the size of Italy's fourth wave this winter will depend on vaccinations and individuals' behaviour, according to one of Italy's most prominent health experts.

“The fourth wave of the epidemic is already in progress but we can reduce it,” said Walter Ricciardi, a professor of hygiene and preventative medicine and a health advisor to the Italian government, in an interview with the Sky TG24 news channel on Monday.

“It is up to us to make sure it does not become a violent wave like in other countries”, said Ricciardi, who is a former head of the Higher Health Institute (ISS).

“If we continue to use protection, if we have third doses and adequately manage testing and tracing in schools, it will remain a small wave, not an overwhelming one like in other countries,” he said.

READ ALSO: Why are Covid infections in Italy rising?

Experts warned in July that Italy had entered the fourth wave of contagion – though the health ministry said in mid-September that numbers had so far been “contained” thanks to vaccinations and “individuals’ adherence to correct behaviour”.

Italy’s latest official health data report on Friday showed that the trend of falling intensive care admissions had reversed, while the number of new infections and continued to rise.

Despite this, Covid emergency commissioner General Francesco Figlioilo stated that the country’s vaccination campaign “is proving to be decisive in limiting severe forms of disease, with a positive impact on the hospital system”.

Numbers of recorded new cases and hospitalisations in Italy remain much lower than those seen in some other large European countries, such as Germany, which has seen a record high number of deaths and spiking infection rates.

Experts mainly attribute the lower figures in Italy to its high rate of vaccination coverage, while Italian hospital data has shown that the vast majority of Covid patients in intensive care are unvaccinated.

As of Monday, some 45 million people or almost 85 percent of the Italian population over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated, and 1.8 million have received booster shots, health ministry data shows.

However Italy’s politicians and health experts maintain that more vaccine coverage is needed to keep the numbers down, with millions still yet to receive a first dose.

EXPLAINED: Who can access a third dose of the Covid vaccine in Italy?

Ricciardi echoed other health experts in saying Italy needs to offer third doses to a wider section of the population as soon as possible.

At the moment Italy is only giving third doses to health workers, the over-60s and the clinically vulnerable, but health authorities are reportedly aiming to start offering the booster to all from early 2022.

Photo: Andreas SOLARO / AFP

In order to contain the fourth wave, Ricciardi said Italy “doesn’t need” to follow Austria’s lead by implementing a lockdown for the unvaccinated “because the measures taken serve to keep the epidemic under control, as is happening.”

But he said Italy “should think about correcting” its green pass system.

The country’s Covid health certificate, known as the “green pass”, is available to those who are vaccinated, recovered, or have tested negative, either with a PCR test or a rapid (antigenic) swab test.

READ ALSO: Where do you now need to show a Covid green pass in Italy?

Ricciardi said making the pass available using rapid tests “gives a false sense of security” as they have a 30 percent false negative rate.

“Especially with the Delta variant, if you enter a place where there are susceptible people, with a false negative test result, infection occurs.”The health ministry has not announced any new measures aimed at containing the rise in infections, although it is now considering making vaccines mandatory for more groups as uptake slows.


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