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HEALTH

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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HEALTH

Q&A: What you need to know about Italy’s West Nile virus outbreak

As Italy records a surge in cases of West Nile fever, we look at what the disease is and where in the country it's spreading.

Q&A: What you need to know about Italy's West Nile virus outbreak

Mosquitos are unfortunately one downside of summer in Italy. But as well as being a nuisance, they may also pose a health risk in the country – one of the few in Europe to record cases of West Nile virus (WNV)

READ ALSO: Cases of West Nile fever surge in northern Italy

Last week Italy recorded 50 more cases of the mosquito-borne virus, bringing the total number of infections to 144 according to the latest report from Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS).

This marked a 53-percent increase in cases against the previous week, while ten people have died so far.

As the number of infections continues to rise, here are the answers to the most pressing questions about the disease and the outbreak in Italy.

What is it?

The West Nile Virus (WNV) is a single-stranded RNA virus that can cause West Nile fever in humans.

It’s a member of the Flavivirus family together with other endemic viruses such as the Zika and Dengue viruses.

The virus was first identified in 1937 in Uganda’s West Nile district but has since spread to many other parts of the world, to the point that it is now considered indigenous to Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. 

Carried by birds, West Nile virus is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes.

The West Nile virus is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes of the Culex species, which infect humans and other mammals through their bite, according to Italy’s health ministry.

There is no evidence that human-to-human transmission is possible.

Where are cases being reported in Italy?

Infections have been largely concentrated in the north of the country, especially in the Veneto region, where six people have now died of the disease. Other deaths were recorded in Lombardy, Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna.

The city of Padua, which is located in Veneto’s mainland, around 35 kilometres away from the Adriatic coast, is currently regarded as the hotspot of the virus. 

It isn’t yet clear why Veneto has been the worst-hit region so far, but experts fear that its marshy lowlands might be the perfect breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes. 

A mosquito of the Culex species viewed under a microscope.

Mosquitoes of the Culex species, a specimen of which is pictured above, are responsible for transmitting the West Nile Virus to humans and other mammals. Photo by Jon CHERRY Getty Images / AFP

How severe is the outbreak in Italy?

West Nile virus is not new to Italy. However, this summer has brought the highest number of cases recorded yet.

National infection levels remain relatively low but the country has by far the largest number of cases in Europe.

According to the most recent report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), dated August 3rd, 94 out of 120 recorded cases were in Italy.

Greece had 23 reported cases. Romania and Slovakia had two and one respectively. 

Italy is the only European country that has reported fatalities.

What are the symptoms?

According to the Italian Higher Health Institute (ISS), around 80 percent of infected people show no symptoms whatsoever.

In symptomatic cases, however, symptoms generally resemble those of a common flu and include fever, headaches, nausea and diarrhoea. 

The infection is usually only dangerous for people with weakened immune systems such as the elderly, and the most severe symptoms occur in fewer than one percent of infected people.

In healthy people, the virus is unlikely to cause more than a headache or sore throat, and symptoms generally last only a few days.

According to the data currently available, around one in 150 infected people can show symptoms as serious as partial vision loss, convulsions and paralysis. 

In very rare cases (around 0.1 percent, or one in 1000) the disease can cause brain infections (encephalitis or meningitis) which may eventually be fatal.

Brazilian biologists handle mosquito larvae.

There is currently no vaccine against West Nile disease, though several are being tested. Photo by Apu GOMES / AFP

Is there a cure?

There is no vaccine against West Nile fever. “Currently vaccines are being studied, but for the moment prevention consists mainly in reducing exposure to mosquito bites,” the ISS states.

There is also no specific treatment for the disease caused by the virus.

Patients showing the more serious symptoms are usually admitted to hospital and treated with IV fluids and assisted ventilation.

What should you do to protect yourself?

Seeing as there is currently no vaccine against the virus, the best way to protect oneself is by reducing exposure to mosquitoes as much as possible.

Italian health authorities have listed a number of official recommendations to help residents avoid mosquito bites. These include: 

  • Use repellent
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers when being outdoors and especially during ​​mosquitoes’ peak activity times, i.e. sunrise and sunset
  • Use mosquito nets on your windows or sleep in rooms with air-conditioning and keep the windows closed
  • Make sure there are no pools of stagnant water around your house

See more information about West Nile virus in Italy on the health ministry’s website.

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