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HEALTH
Coronavirus: Why Italy’s trailblazing rapid tests failed to stop the second wave
Italy was the first country in Europe to bet big on rapid "antigen" coronavirus tests, and its apparent success encouraged Britain, the United States, Slovakia and others to follow suit.
Published: 11 November 2020 16:19 CET
Updated: 16 November 2020 09:20 CET
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
However the tests, which are roughly 80 to 90 percent accurate, have not stopped an outbreak that has rocketed from around 500 cases a day in August, when they were first rolled out, to more than 35,000 now – with the total number infections set to top one million on Wednesday.
IN GRAPHS: Track the spread of coronavirus in every region of Italy
“I believe these tests are not used properly at the moment, they are just distributed randomly to everybody,” Professor Andrea Crisanti of the University of Padua told AFP, saying the government has no overall plan.
He said their use as a measure to protect vulnerable people in care homes, for example, was “absolutely criminal” because positive cases could slip through the net.
 
 'No alternative'
 
A vaccine may well be on its way, but not in time to battle the current wave of infections in Europe and elsewhere.
 
Instead, policymakers are left scrambling for solutions that avoid a repeat of the economically devastating lockdown earlier this year.
 
Italy last week shut bars, restaurants and shops in the worst-affected areas and introduced a nationwide night curfew, but has so far stopped short of another  nationwide shutdown.
 
At a glance: What are the coronavirus rules in Italy right now?
 
The antigen tests have become a crucial part of the italian authorities' efforts to avoid a second lockdown.
 
They take just minutes to produce a result and they are cheap, unlike the “gold standard” molecular PCR tests that are close to 100 percent accurate.
 
Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
 
“Having such an instrument is fundamental, you have a method to immediately understand if a patient has the virus. It is a good starting point,” says family doctor Francesco Stevanato, who has carried out roughly 50 tests from his clinic in Venice.
 
Rolling them out in airports, it was thought, could help protect the travel industry. With wider availability, schools and businesses could safely stay open.
 
Professor Sergio Abrignani of the University of Milan, who co-authored a letter with some of Italy's leading scientists in September calling for their widespread use, conceded that they were not an overall solution.
 
“But there are practical situations where the antigen test has no alternative,” he told AFP.
 
“For example, when I am boarding a train or a ship and want to reduce the risk. The molecular test takes too long to give me an answer.”
 
 Anyone who tests positive with an antigen test in Italy is supposed to get a PCR test to confirm the result.
 
But the real danger is false negatives – if the rapid tests have an accuracy level of 80 or 90 percent, infected people will return negative
results.
 
'No specific strategy'
 
“If your objective is to screen a community to know if transmission is there, fine,” said Crisanti.
 
However, he said that to halt transmission, rapid tests must be complemented by the accuracy of PCR tests, along with surveillance tools and
stay-at-home orders.
 
The Italian health ministry told AFP there was no specific strategy in place for testing beyond boosting capacity.
 
And the National Institute of Health, in charge of monitoring the epidemic for the ministry, could not provide any data related to the uptake of rapid tests.
 
An integrated approach is frustrated by the fact health policy in Italy is largely controlled by regional officials – creating wide variations.
 
But Crisanti said the government should have built a broader plan to capitalise on the lower number of cases after the lockdown.
 
“If they had built a network for molecular (PCR) tests, if they had integrated this capability with an information tool… and if they had built
infrastructure to make the beds available where they are needed, I'm sure we would be in a completely different situation.”
 
By AFP's Joseph Boyle and Giuliana Ricozzi
AFP
news@thelocal.it
@thelocalitaly
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TRAVEL NEWS
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TRAVEL NEWS
Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased
The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights
Published: 11 May 2022 16:17 CEST
Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.
#EASA and #ECDC have taken the first steps to relax #COVID19 measures for air travelers. While the wearing of face masks will no longer be mandatory it is important to be respectful of others. The full protocol is available here:​https://t.co/Oetq26Xd0g​pic.twitter.com/eBAvQxIEzp
— EASA (@EASA) May 11, 2022
The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.
The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.
It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.
“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 
“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  
ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 
“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 
“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 
“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”
The Local
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@thelocalfrance
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