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Covid-19: Italy to extend state of emergency until April 30th

With Covid-19 infections on the rise, the Italian government is planning to extend the country’s state of emergency.

Covid-19: Italy to extend state of emergency until April 30th
Photo: AFP

Italy's health data on Friday showed the coronavirus Rt number (reproduction rate) had risen above 1 for the first time in six weeks, further cementing the government’s fears that a third wave of the coronavirus is on its way.

READ ALSO: How will Italy's coronavirus rules change under the new emergency decree?

Hopes in early December that the country could begin to reopen in January have now been dashed, and health minister Roberto Speranza on Wednesday confirmed the extension of many current restrictions from January 15th.

Speranza also confirmed that the government plans to extend the stato di emergenza to April 30th.

“This week there has been a general deterioration in the epidemiological situation in Italy,” Speranza told parliament's lower house, stating that the epidemic is “in a phase of expansion again” as he outlined plans for the next emergency decree.

Italian health minister Roberto Speranza announcing the extension to parliament. Photo: AFP

The state of emergency declaration allows Italian officials to bypass much of the bureaucracy that often slows down decision-making.Italy’s state of emergency does not determine the emergency rules and restrictions and it's not the same thing as an emergency decree.

It gives greater powers to both the national government and to regional authorities, and allows the Prime Minister to introduce, change, and revoke rules quickly via emergency decrees.
 
 
The current state of alarm is due to end on January 31st, by when the state of emergency will have been in place for one year.
 
Italy first declared the state of emergency in late January 2020 after the first two cases of Covid-19 were detected in the country, in two Chinese tourists in Rome.
 
 
Italian law states that the duration of a national state of emergency cannot exceed 12 months and can be extended for no more than a further 12 months.

But the 12-month extension period starts with the first extension, which began on July 31st 2020.

This suggests that the state of emergency will end at the very latest on July 31st 2021.

There are high hopes that Italy wil have made good progress with its vaccination campaign by that point.

As of January 14th, the country has vaccinated almost 900,000 people.

Italy is prioritising medical workers and elderly care home residents, and the vaccine is not yet available to the general public.

Since the start of the pandemic Italy has reported 2.1 million infections and more than 80,000 deaths in total from Covid-19.

 

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Italy’s deputy health minister under fire after casting doubt on Covid vaccines

Opposition leaders called for health undersecretary Marcello Gemmato to resign on Tuesday after the official said he was not "for or against" vaccines.

Italy's deputy health minister under fire after casting doubt on Covid vaccines

Gemmato, a pharmacist and member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party, made the remark during an appearance on the political talkshow ReStart on Rai 2 on Monday evening.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

In a widely-shared clip, the official criticises the previous government’s approach to the Covid pandemic, claiming that for a large part of the crisis Italy had the highest death rate and third highest ‘lethality’ rate (the proportion of Covid patients who died of the disease).

When journalist Aldo Cazzullo interjects to ask whether the toll would have been higher without vaccines, Gemmato responds: “that’s what you say,” and claimed: “We do not have the reverse burden of proof.”

The undersecretary goes on to say that he won’t “fall into the trap of taking a side for or against vaccines”.

After Gemmato’s comments, the president of Italy’s National Federation of Medical Guilds, Filippo Anelli, stressed that official figures showed the Italian vaccination campaign had already prevented some 150,000 deaths, slashing the country’s potential death toll by almost half.

Vaccines also prevented eight million cases of Covid-19, over 500,000 hospitalisations, and more than 55,000 admissions to intensive care, according to a report from Italy’s national health institute (ISS) in April 2021.

Gemmato’s comments provoked calls for him to step down, including from the head of the centre-left Democratic Party, Enrico Letta.

“A health undersecretary who doesn’t take his distance from no-vaxxers is certainly in the wrong job” wrote the leader of the centrist party Action, Carlo Calenda, on Twitter.

Infectious disease expert Matteo Bassetti of Genoa’s San Martino clinic also expressed shock.

“How is it possible to say that there is no scientific proof that vaccines have helped save the lives of millions of people? You just have to read the scientific literature,” Bassetti tweeted. 

In response to the backlash, Gemmato on Tuesday put out a statement saying he believes “vaccines are precious weapons against Covid” and claiming that his words were taken out of context and misused against him.

The Brothers of Italy party was harshly critical of the previous government’s approach to handling the Covid crisis, accusing the former government of using the pandemic as an excuse to “limit freedom” through its use of the ‘green pass’, a proof of vaccination required to access public spaces. 

But since coming into power, Meloni appears to have significantly softened her stance.

Her appointee for health minister, Orazio Schillaci, is a medical doctor who formed part of the team advising the Draghi administration on its handling of the pandemic.

Schillaci, a former dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at Rome’s Tor Vergata University, has described the former government’s green pass scheme as an “indispensable tool for guaranteeing safety in university classrooms”.

Speaking at a session of the G20 on Tuesday, Meloni referenced the role of vaccines in bringing an end to the Covid pandemic.

“Thanks to the extraordinary work of health personnel, vaccines, prevention, and the accountability of citizens, life has gradually returned to normal,’ the prime minister said in a speech.

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