Italian scientists call for ‘drastic measures’ within days to contain Covid-19 surge

More than 100 Italian academics have written to the government calling for urgent restrictions to avoid thousands more cases and hundred of deaths in Italy from Covid-19.

Italian scientists call for 'drastic measures' within days to contain Covid-19 surge
A Covid-19 patient in intensive care at a hospital near Rome. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

In a joint appeal to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and President Sergio Mattarella, scores of scientists urged Italy's leaders to “take stringent, drastic measures over the next two or three days”.

Italy's new cases currently stand at a record high, with over 16,000 more infections confirmed on Thursday alone – but while individual regions are declaring local curfews, the national government has so far resisted imposing countrywide restrictions.

“As scientists, researchers and university professors we believe it is necessary and urgent to express our strongest concerns about the current phase of the Covid-19 pandemic,” reads the letter, cited by Ansa news agency.

“The longer we wait, the harder the measures will have to be and the longer they'll have to last, thus resulting in a bigger economic impact,” wrote the signatories, who include economists as well as scientific experts. 

They referred to a recent estimate that if coronavirus deaths continue to increase at similar rates, within weeks Italy could lose as many as 500 people per day to Covid-19.

That analysis comes from theoretical physicist Giorgio Parisi, who in a blog for the Huffington Post calculated that if current trends continue, Italy would find itself in the same health crisis as March “within three weeks”.

While the country has massively expanded its testing capacity since then, the percentage of swabs coming back positive has risen worryingly in recent weeks, hitting 9.4 percent nationwide.

Meanwhile admissions to intensive care as well as deaths are increasing, with another 136 fatalities reported on Thursday.

The next two weeks will be crucial for Italy, Parisi warned, calling for “drastic measures NOW”.

The only way to avoid a 'hard' lockdown is to monitor exactly where, when and how infections are taking place, he argued, which would require a massive increase in data collection in an extremely short timeframe.

A growing number of Italian experts are now urging the government to take tougher action.

Earlier this week, public health doctor Walter Ricciardi, one of the government's top advisors on Covid-19, warned that tracing and testing was no longer enough to control the surge in Italy's biggest cities and urged politicians to “be brave”.

While Prime Minister Conte has encouraged people to “limit unnecessary travel”, he also insists that Italy does not need to resort to another nationwide lockdown of the kind it imposed in spring, which shuttered schools and businesses and kept the public almost entirely confined to their homes.

“Now we're in a different situation that we were in in March: back then we didn't have the means to diagnose, now we're readier thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of all,” he said. 

Yet there is concern that Italy's hospitals will find themselves under severe strain once more, as the number of coronavirus patients in intensive care approaches 1,000 and the total number of people in hospital tops 10,000. 

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Italian monkeypox cases rise to ten

Monkeypox infections have now been confirmed in four Italian regions, Italian health authorities said on Thursday.

Italian monkeypox cases rise to ten

The total number of Italian monkeypox cases rose to ten on Thursday with the discovery of the first case in the Emilia-Romagna region.

There have now been five cases detected the Lazio region, which are being treated in Rome, plus three in Lombardy, and one each in Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna.

READ ALSO: How is Italy dealing with rising monkeypox cases?

“There is no alarm, but the infection surveillance system is at a state of maximum attention,” Lazio’s regional health councillor Alessio D’Amato told the Ansa news agency after the seventh case was reported on Wednesday.

Researchers at Rome’s Spallanzani hospital for infectious diseases said the new cases are thought to be “part of a pan-European cluster” linked to cases in the Canary Islands, Ansa reported.

The first Italian case of monkey smallpox, or monkeypox, was also found in a man who had recently returned from the Canary Islands, doctors said last Thursday.

On Thursday morning the Italian health ministry published guidance on dealing with outbreaks of monkeypox as case numbers continued to rise across Europe.

More than 250 monkeypox cases have now been reported in at least 16 countries where the virus isn’t endemic, according to the World Health Organization.

They are mostly in Spain, the UK and Portugal, with single-digit cases in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland, as well as Italy.

READ ALSO: What is Spain doing to deal with rising monkeypox cases?

The illness has infected thousands of people in parts of Central and Western Africa in recent years, but is rare in Europe and North Africa.

Monkeypox is known to spread via close contact with an animal or human with the virus. It can be transmitted via bodily fluids, lesions, respiratory droplets or through contaminated materials, such as bedding.

Its symptoms are similar but somewhat milder than those of smallpox: fever, headache, muscle aches, back pain, chills, exhaustion, although it also causes the lymph nodes to swell up.

Within one to three days, the patient develops a rash, often beginning on the face then spreading to other parts of the body. 

Although most monkeypox cases aren’t serious, studies have shown that one in ten people who contract the disease in Africa die from it.

The unprecedented outbreak of the monkeypox virus has put the international community on alert.

On Monday, the European Union urged member states to take steps to ensure positive cases, close contacts, and even pets be quarantined as this is a zoonotic virus (a virus that spreads from animals to humans).