Italy’s Omicron wave ‘to peak in 5-10 days’ as contagion rate slows

The daily number of reported coronavirus infections in Italy has begun to fall in recent days, but scientific experts say the Omicron wave has not peaked just yet.

People line up outside a pharmacy to be tested for coronavirus in central Milan.
People line up outside a pharmacy to be tested for coronavirus in central Milan. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Italy’s health ministry on Thursday reported 184,615 more confirmed coronavirus infections in the country within the past 24 hours, down from 196,224 on Wednesday.

While still high, many are wondering if these falling numbers are a sign that the worst is over after case numbers soared at the end of 2021 and have since remained around 200,000 daily.

The number of positive cases in Italy is “expected to peak in 5-10 days”, mathematician Giovanni Sebastiani told national broadcaster Rai on Friday.

As in previous waves, some parts of the country will get there sooner than others, he said.

The latest weekly health data from regional authorities “confirm that Tuscany, Umbria, Abruzzo and Lombardy are almost at the peak”.

MAP: The Italian regions becoming Covid ‘orange’ zones in January

But some experts warn that the infection rate is likely to rise further before the current wave peaks, even if case numbers are now rising more gradually.

“The forecast is that daily cases will approach 300,000,” physicist Giorgio Sestili told the Ansa news agency, though he noted that “compared to last week there is a slowdown, we’re not observing the dizzying growth that took place between the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022.”

This slowdown “could indicate that we are not far from the peak”, he said. “It’s difficult to predict, because we don’t know if there are variables that could come into play and that we are not considering”.

He pointed out that just before Christmas “a similar trend was observed and it was assumed that the peak would come at 30,000 cases”.

But case numbers then soared in the following days, with infections fuelled by the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

The weekly rise in the infection rate at that time was up to 140 percent, while in recent days the growth has been between 30-50 percent, he said.

Roberto Battiston, professor of Physics at the University of Trento, told newspaper La Repubblica on Friday that the peak of infections in Italy could come next week.

“The boom in infections that started just before Christmas could reach its maximum within a week and then drop,” he said.

He stressed that a peak in the infection rate however does not mean the health emergency is over.

“We are in the midst of a pandemic, the numbers are and will remain high for a while.”

“We’re at risk of having more than 2.5 million infected Italians in quarantine. And a very small percentage of serious cases is enough to send intensive care and hospitals in general into havoc.”

Some experts point out that the reopening of schools this week and the return to workplaces after the Christmas holidays, which lasted until at least January 6th for many people in Italy, could reverse the slowdown and lead to another rise in infections.

“Sales shopping and the reopening of schools could change things by significantly increasing the number of contacts between people, especially among the youngest, who are currently the most affected,” Giovanni Sebastiani from Italy’s National Research Council said in an interview with Ansa.

“The incidence of Covid in under-20s is three times higher than that in people aged 20 and over,” he noted.

He said the reopening of schools should have been delayed by “about a month” and parents encouraged to work from home to reduce the impact on the epidemic curve.

READ ALSO: What are Italy’s new Covid restrictions in schools?

Italy’s seven-day Covid-19 incidence rate rose overall in the week of January 7-13  according to the latest weekly report from Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS) and the health ministry on Friday.

At the national level, Italy’s seven-day Covid-19 incidence rate rose overall in the week of January 7-13. The rate is now 1,988 cases for every 100,000 inhabitants, up from 1,699 the week before.

Hospitalisation and intensive care occupancy rates also continue to rise gradually, the report said, with the proportion of ICU beds filled by Covid-19 patients had risen again from 15.4 to 17.5 percent.

The percentage of other hospital beds occupied by Covid patients climbed from 21.6 to 27.1.

A Covid-19 intensive care unit at Rome’s Institute of Clinical Cardiology (ICC), on December 30th, 2021. Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

The Omicron strain accounted for 81 percent  of Covid-19 cases detected in Italy as of January 3rd, according to ISS data, with regional variations of between 33 and 100 percent of cases.

The older Delta variant accounted for the remaining 19 percent, the ISS said.

The latest health ministry data this week also showed that several Italian regions are likely to be classifed as higher-risk ‘orange’ zones from Monday the health situation continues to worsen.

The regions of Piedmont, Calabria, Liguria and Sicily have all neared or exceeded the thresholds for tighter health restrictions, though the health ministy has not yet confirmed which areas will be first to be declared ‘orange’ zones.

A region can be declared an orange zone if it records a Covid incidence rate of 150 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, combined with 20 percent ICU and 30 percent general ward Covid patient occupancy.

EXPLAINED: What are the rules in Italy’s Covid ‘orange’ zones?

If regions become orange zones, little will change for vaccinated people; most venues and activities will remain open and accessible to those with Italy’s ‘super green pass’ health certificate that shows the bearer is vaccinated against or recovered from Covid.

As of January 10th, the vaccine pass is required to access all public transport and most leisure venues across the country, including hotels and restaurants.

Italy is relying on the pass system to keep businesses open, and has made vaccination mandatory for over-50s and some employees in efforts to prevent serious cases of Covid-19 from overwhelming hospitals.

Italy’s vaccination rate has also risen this week, with a record of almost 700,000 jabs administered on Tuesday – most of these booster shots.

Some health experts predicted this week that Italy may be “out of the pandemic” in spring as the country is expected to reach 95 percent vaccine coverage by April or May.

For further details about Italy’s current Covid-19 health situation please see the Italian Health Ministry’s website (available in English).

Member comments

  1. “ He said the reopening of schools should have been delayed by “about a month” and parents encouraged to work from home to reduce the impact on the epidemic curve.”

    These people are living in a fantasy world.

  2. So we’re rounding the curve but we need to get more draconian on enforcing the vaccine mandate? Omicron is less dangerous and spreading so fast that the natural immunity resulting from it will make the vaccine irrelevant in the future for most people. By late spring 2022 the world we should live in is one where vaccines are an option for those who are very old or very at risk. Everybody else should be able to live as we lived in the before time.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

The health ministry is reviewing its quarantine requirements as the country's Covid-19 health situation improved again this week, according to Italian media reports.

Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

Italy has taken a more cautious approach to Covid in recent months than many of its European neighbours, keeping strict isolation rules in place for anyone who tests positive for the virus.

But this could be set to change in the coming days, according to media reports, as one of Italy’s deputy health ministers said the government is about to cut the isolation period for asymptomatic cases.

“Certainly in the next few days there will be a reduction in isolation for those who are positive but have no symptoms,” Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa said in a TV interview on the political talk show Agorà on Tuesday.

“We have to manage to live with the virus,” he said.

Italy’s La Stampa newspaper reported that the compulsory isolation period could be reduced to 48 hours for those who test positive but remain asymptomatic – provided they subsequently test negative after the day two mark.

Under Italy’s current rules, vaccinated people who test positive must stay in isolation for at least seven days, and unvaccinated people for ten days – regardless of whether or not they have any symptoms.

READ ALSO: How tourists and visitors can get a coronavirus test in Italy

At the end of the isolation period, the patient has to take another test to exit quarantine. Those who test negative are free to leave; those who remain positive must stay in isolation until they get a negative test result, up to a maximum of 21 days in total (at which point it doesn’t matter what the test result says).

Health ministry sources indicated the new rules would cut the maximum quarantine period to 15 or even 10 days for people who continue to test positive after the initial isolation period is up, La Stampa said.

The government is believed to be reviewing the rules as the latest official data showed Covid infection and hospitalisation rates were slowing again this week, as the current wave of contagions appeared to have peaked in mid-July.

However, the national Rt number (which shows the rate of transmission) remained above the epidemic threshold, and the number of fatalities continued to rise.

The proposed changes still aren’t lenient enough for some parties. Regional authorities have been pushing for an end to quarantine altogether, even for people who are actively positive – an idea Costa appears sympathetic to.

“The next step I think is to consider the idea of even eliminating the quarantine, perhaps by wearing a mask and therefore being able to go to work,” he told reporters.

“We must review the criteria for isolation, to avoid blocking the country again”.

At least one health expert, however, was unenthusiastic about the proposal.

Dr Nino Cartabellotta, head of Italy’s evidence-based medicine group Gimbe, tweeted on Tuesday: “There are currently no epidemiological or public health reasons to abolish the isolation of Covid-19 positives”

Massimo Andreoni, professor of Infectious Diseases at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the Tor Vergata University of Rome, was more ambivalent about the prospect.

The isolation requirement for asymptomatic cases should be “revised somewhat in the light of the epidemiological data”, he told reporters, but urged “a minimum of precaution, because the less the virus circulates and the fewer severe cases there are, the fewer new variants arise”.

When the question was last raised at the end of June, Health Minister Roberto Speranza was firmly against the idea of lifting quarantine requirements for people who were Covid positive.

“At the moment such a thing is not in question,” he told newspaper La Repubblica at the time. “Anyone who is infected must stay at home.”