The ministry sent out the instruction in a circular after the Higher Health Institute (ISS) released new figures on Friday showing that the number of infections in Italy caused by the Delta and Kappa variants have increased by 16.8 percent in June.
“From our epidemiological surveillance, a rapidly evolving picture emerges that confirms that also in our country, as in the rest of Europe, the Delta variant of the virus is becoming prevalent,” said Anna Teresa Palamara, director of ISS’s infectious diseases department.
According to ISS data published on Friday, the SARS-CoV-2 variant prevalent in Italy was found to be the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7), responsible for 74.9 of cases. This is now also the most prevalent globally.
Cases associated with Kappa and Delta variants (B.1.617.1/2) “are few overall in January to June”, the ISS report added. But it stated that the frequency and spread of these reports has “rapidly” increased across the country.
The new ISS figure still lower than those from independent analysis of data from the virus-variant tracking database Gisaid, which estimated on Thursday that Delta now accounts for as much as 32 percent of recently confirmed new cases.
Several regions have already reported clusters of the Delta variant, though the amount of test result sequencing and analysis carried out by local health authorities in Italy varies and is often low.
Each region currently volunteers to do a certain number genetic sequencing of positive swabs, which means that Italy has less data available about the spread of variants than countries where sequencing is more widespread and systematic, such as the UK or Denmark.
The region of Puglia on Friday confirmed it would begin sending 60 test results per week for further analysis following the health ministry’s instruction.
Italian authorities had largely dismissed the risks posed by Delta in Italy until recently, describing its presence as “rare” in the country in the official data monitoring report released on June 11th.
Health officials had said at the end of May that they believed vaccinations would be enough to mitigate the risks.