COVID-19 under control in Italy, but hotbeds flaring up

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A man wearing a face mask walks his dog by Lake Bracciano in Anguillara Sabazia near Rome, Italy, June 16, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

Italy's COVID-19 numbers continued a downward trend Saturday, but health officials warned that more lockdowns to seal off small areas could be forthcoming as hotbeds flared up in some parts of the country.

A total of 235 people got infected by the new coronavirus over the past 24 hours, the Italian Ministry of Health said Saturday. This compares to 223 new infections on Friday. However, total active cases decreased to 14,621, down from 14,884 on Friday, according to ministry numbers.

Of the currently active cases, 940 people are hospitalized with symptoms (down from 956 on Friday), and 13,610 are isolated at home (down from 13,849 on Friday) because they are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.

Currently, 71 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized in the ICU (down from 79 on Friday), and most of them (36) are in the northern Lombardy region where the pandemic officially broke out on Feb. 21, followed by 11 in the central Lazio region where Rome is located.

Another 21 COVID-19 patients have died -- 16 of them in Lombardy --bringing the overall death toll to 34,854.

On the positive side, 477 patients have recovered, taking the total to 191,944, according to the Ministry of Health.

The ministry also said almost 5.6 million swab tests have been carried out so far, up by 51,011 compared to Friday.

The overall number of COVID-19 cases combining infections, fatalities, and recoveries rose to 241,419 nationwide over the past 24 hours (compared to 241,184 on Friday), the ministry said.

Hotbeds "expected"

In an interview with Sky TG24 private broadcaster on Saturday, Deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri said that the virus is still circulating in Italy and that people must get used to the idea that hotbeds of infection will keep flaring up from time to time -- and some may require lockdowns to ensure they don't spread.

"The virus is circulating, even though less than before (the national lockdown)," Sileri said. "Scientists will discover whether it is less aggressive, or if it has mutated."

"The evidence shows that the hotbeds are occurring (across the country), and each one is a battle. We win by controlling them and preventing them from spreading -- this is what we can expect in the coming months," the deputy health minister explained.

Sileri spoke in reference to a spike in cases in some parts of the country, with three of Italy's 20 regions registering rates of transmission (Rt) indexes of above 1: the central Lazio region where Rome is located (Rt: 1.04), the northern Veneto region whose capital is Venice (Rt: 1.12), and the northern Emilia-Romagna region whose capital is Bologna (Rt: 1.28).

An Rt index of above 1 means each infected person is transmitting the virus to at least one other person, a situation that, in epidemiological terms, can quickly spiral into a large-scale outbreak.

Sileri added that more lockdowns to seal off small areas could be forthcoming. "It could be a rest home or a village," Sileri said. "We must get used to this (scenario)."

"There will always be new hotbeds, the important thing is to discover and contain them," the deputy minister concluded.

On the other hand, the Lombardy region, which has been hardest hit by the pandemic in terms of numbers of cases and deaths, has managed to bring its Rt index down to 0.89, according to the findings published in the latest monitoring report covering the week of June 22-28 compiled by the National Institute of Health (ISS) and the Ministry of Health.

On Saturday, the Corriere Romagna regional paper reported that local health authorities have discovered a new hotbed of coronavirus infection as 12 Bangladeshi farm laborers, who work and also live together on the outskirts of the city of Ravenna, have tested positive for the virus.

Also on Saturday, Lazio health authorities reported that two employees of the World Food Program (WFP) who recently came back from Somalia, a Bangladeshi national who just flew in from his home country, a woman who returned from Peru, and a one-month-old Romanian baby have all tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Italy declared a six-month national state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic on Jan. 31, and the government followed this up with a nationwide lockdown that lasted from March 10 to May 3.

All restrictions on individual mobility and economic activities were lifted on June 3, but top officials have repeatedly warned citizens that more lockdowns could be in the cards if the pandemic reaches dangerous levels again before a vaccine is found.

40 pct of hotel rooms booked for August

Italy's National Tourism Board (ENIT) said in a statement Saturday that four out of 10 hotel rooms in Italy have been booked online by Italian and foreign tourists for August, which is the peak of the summer tourist season.

Venice is struggling the most with 68 percent of its hotel rooms still available, followed by Naples at 47 percent, Milan at 39 percent, Rome at 38 percent, and Florence at 26 percent.

ENIT also noted that between Jan. 1 and June 15, international arrivals in Italian airports plunged by 77.3 percent compared to the same period last year.

The tourism sector contributed 13.2 percent to national gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018, according to ENIT. Enditem

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