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COVID-19 STATS

Italy records highest-ever daily number of Covid cases amid Omicron wave

Italy saw a record 44,595 coronavirus infections in 24 hours on Thursday, as the government prepares to announce tighter health measures to come into force over the festive period.

People queue for coronavirus tests outside a pharmacy in Rome.
Italy is set to announce further health measures intended to contain a new wave of contagion fuelled by the Omicron virus variant. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Italian health ministry data released on Thursday showed the highest daily number of infections seen in the country since the start of the pandemic,

 A record 44.595 new coronavirus cases were confirmed in the past 24 hours –  a sharp increase from the 36,293 reported on Wednesday.

The previous record daily number of infections was 40,902, recorded on November 13th, 2020.

READ ALSO: What will change under Italy’s new Covid decree?

The figure can be partly explained by a large increase in the number of tests carried out in the last 24 hours: more than 901,000, compared to 779,000 on Wednesday.

The test positivity rate was up to 4.9 percent, from 4.6 percent the day before.

There were 168 deaths from Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, while on November 13th last year the figure was 550, noted Italian news agency Ansa.

Hospitalisation figures are also lower by comparison today – though the numbers of Covid patients in both intensive care and other hospital wards continue to rise daily.

There are 1,023 Covid patients in Italy’s ICU units (compared to 3,230 last November) and 8,722 in other wards (compared to 30,914).

Some 430,029 people in Italy are currently positive, 27,300 more than yesterday, health ministry data showed,

The Lombardy region, which has been the worst-affected part of Italy since the start of the pandemic, saw its own record of 12,955 confirmed cases on Thursday.

However the region, like most others in Italy, remains a low-risk ‘white’ zone with minimal health measures in place.

The Omicron variant is known to be behind 28 percent of the infections recorded in Italy, or more than one in four, Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS) said earlier on Thursday.

The Italian government is meeting on Thursday evening to agree on tighter health measures intended to stem the latest Covid wave.

A new decree is expected to focus mainly on tightening the rules on wearing masks and using Italy’s ‘green pass’ Covid health certificate, and also on extending the country’s current vaccine mandate to more groups, with Draghi stressing on Wednesday that “vaccines remain the best weapon we have against the virus”.

For more information about the current Covid-19 situation in Italy please see the Italian health ministry’s website (available in English).

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COVID-19 ALERT

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.

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