ROME – Italy, which broke its own record for new coronavirus infections after reporting more than 31,000 cases on Friday, is heading towards a return to lockdown, as partial restrictions imposed in the past few weeks have failed to stem the second wave of the pandemic in the country.
The past week has shown that the rapid rate of transmission is becoming more and more uncontrollable, health officials warned, and contact tracing methods have been overwhelmed, further hampering efforts at containing the virus.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has been keen to avoid a new general confinement like the one in spring, but the partial measures – including nightly curfews and closures of bars, restaurants, gyms, cinemas and theaters – imposed since the beginning of this second wave have been unable to flatten the upward curve of contagion.
“Italy is heading towards a type 4 scenario in the COVID crisis, with a rapid worsening of the situation,” said the Superior Institute of Health (ISS) in its weekly report.
There are 11 regions considered high risk for uncontrolled transmission, and four – Calabria, Emilia Romagna, Lombardy and Piedmont – in addition to the autonomous province of Bolzano, which are already in scenario 4.
“Measures are required that favor a drastic reduction in physical interactions between people and that can relieve the pressure on health systems, including restrictions on non-essential activities and mobility, as well as the implementation of other planned measures,” said the head of the ISS, Silvio Brusaferro.
Italian media reports are rife with rumors that the current measures, which expire on Nov. 9, will be toughened along the lines of restrictions that took effect on Friday in France.
These imply a partial lockdown, with schools and factories remaining open but all non-essential shops being forced to close.
With the infection curve showing no signs of flattening, most observers expect Conte to sign a new decree next week.
The more than 31,000 cases reported on Friday were a significant jump from Thursday’s 26,800 infections, while the positivity rate of testing is nearing 14 percent. In some areas, including Lombardy, that rate rises to 18 percent.
On Thursday, the commissioner heading the government’s task force, Domenico Arcuri, said the country was facing a “dramatic moment” and urged people to stay at home as much as possible due to the pressure being felt by the country’s healthcare system. As well as restrictions on people leaving their homes except for work, school, medical visits or essential purchases, a new confinement would mean travel between Italy’s different regions would be banned, as well as the possibility of localized total lockdowns in the worst affected cities, such as Milan or Naples.
One of the main concerns is the closure of schools, which the government wants to avoid at all costs, but which are already being implemented in some regions, such as Campania and Puglia.
Some regional leaders have called for the central government to impose nationwide restrictions, a step that Conte – still reeling from the damage done during the first lockdown – is desperate to avoid.
In Campania, where secondary schools and universities are already closed, its president, Vincenzo De Luca, on Friday ordered the closure of nursery schools from Monday until Nov. 14, after the region passed the threshold of 3,000 new infections in one day.
In a live video on Facebook, De Luca criticized the “very severe delays in government decisions, which have been taken with the logic of the media that displeases everyone and does not solve the problems.
“There is a serious underestimation of the seriousness of the epidemic at present and, therefore, decision times are incompatible with the seriousness of the epidemic, precious time is being lost,” he warned.