Tuesday sees Italy virus cases rise 45%; 11 dead

A street in downtown Milan's Chinese neighborhood Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 25 February 2020

Tuesday sees Italy virus cases rise 45%; 11 dead

  • Infections in other European countries traced to people who had recently travelled to Italy
  • The country has the most confirmed cases in Europe

ROME: Italy reported a 45% one-day increase in people infected with the coronavirus as other countries in Europe recorded their first cases Tuesday, producing evidence that travelers are carrying the virus from the European outbreak’s current epicenter.
Italian officials reported 11 deaths and 322 confirmed cases of the virus, 100 more than a day earlier. While the majority were concentrated in northern Italy, some of the new cases showed up in parts of Italy well outside the country’s two hard-hit regions, including three in Sicily, two in Tuscany and one in Liguria.
An Italian couple from the afflicted north tested positive in the Canary Islands off Africa, forcing the quarantine of their hotel in what one guest said felt like being “monkeys in a cage.” Austria, Croatia and Switzerland reported their first cases, all in people who recently traveled to Italy.
The four new deaths in Italy, like the seven reported earlier, were in patients who were elderly, suffering from other ailments, or both, officials said.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte defended the measures Italy has taken to contain the outbreak and predicted a stabilizing of numbers soon. But he acknowledged that the rise in cases — the most outside Asia — was “worrisome.”
“Obviously I can’t say I’m not worried because I don’t want anyone to think we’re underestimating this emergency,” he said before a meeting with a visiting World Health Organization mission. “But we trust that with the measures we’ve implemented there will be a containing effect in the coming days.”
Italy has closed schools, museums and theaters in the two regions where clusters have formed and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.
But Italy hasn’t yet identified the source of the outbreak. Angelo Borrelli, the head of the Italian civil protection department, said the increase in cases from 222 to 322, representing a 45% increase, came from people who tested positive for the virus in a 24-hour period from Monday evening to Tuesday evening.
The southern island of Sicily reported its first three positive cases from a woman vacationing from Bergamo, in Lombardy and two others traveling with her. Two cases were also reported in Tuscany, south out of the epicenter.
Spain counted three active cases: a woman in Barcelona who had been in Lombardy in recent days, and a doctor from northern Italy and his partner who were vacationing in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands.
The hotel where the couple was staying, the H10 Adeje Palace was locked down after they tested positive for the virus and 1,000 tourists prevented from leaving, according to Spanish news media and town officials in Adeje.
“We do remain patient but we haven’t had anything to eat and drink at the hotel today,” Harriet Strandvik, the mother in a family of four stuck at the hotel, told Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat. “We feel a little bit like monkeys in a cage here as there are media representatives present near the hotel and police officers guarding the area are wearing masks.”
The Canary Islands, an archipelago located around 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of the African coast, is a popular vacation destination that attracts Europeans year-round. Many Italians are vacationing this week as schools have a mid-winter break.
Conte shocked Lombardy officials by taking to task the hospital in Codogno, southeast of Milan, where Italy’s first positive patient went on Feb. 18 with flu-like symptoms. The man was sent home, only to return a short time later with worsening conditions, at which point he was tested for the virus.
Many of Lombardy’s 200-plus positive tests have a traceable connection to the Codogno hospital, including several doctors and nurses, patients and relatives who visited them.
Conte told reporters that the Lombardy cluster grew “because of the hospital management that wasn’t completely proper according to the protocols that are recommended for these cases.”
“This surely contributed to the spread,” he said.
Lombardy’s chief health official, Giulio Gallera, expressed shock at Conte’s remarks and defended the region’s handling of the crisis.
“It’s offensive. It’s unacceptable,” Gallera said, noting that the man presented none of the main risk factors for the virus — travel to China or contact with an infected person — when he first went to the emergency room.
The man was eventually tested after doctors ascertained from his wife that he had met with someone who had recently returned from China. But officials have excluded that contact as the source of the outbreak since that person tested negative.
As officials worked to get ahead of the spread nationally, the reality of a two-week quarantine was setting in for residents of Italy’s isolated “red zones” — the cluster of 10 towns in Lombardy and Veneto’s tiny Vo’Euganeo.
“The concern is palpable, people are worried, partly because of what they hear on television, information, on social media,” said Davide Passerini, the mayor of Fombio, one of the Lombardy towns under lockdown. “Life is like it is in other isolated villages: Everything is shut, people go out just to do their shopping.”
And they wait to see if they develop symptoms.
Italy initially tested anyone who came into contact with an infected person. But with the numbers growing and supply issues with test kits, masks and protective gear, Italy’s national health system revised its containment strategies.
People who live or have visited the quarantined areas, or who who have been in contact with positive cases, are advised to self-quarantine for two weeks. They are instructed to take their temperatures twice a day, and stay in touch with their doctors or the national health service via an overwhelmed toll-free number.
Only if they develop symptoms are they tested, most often by a team performing house calls to prevent hospitals and clinics being overly stressed, said Elia Delmiglio, mayor of Casalpusterlengo, another of the 10 towns in Lombardy’s “red zone.”
“Local health structures are doing their best, but in some cases they were not ready to face such an emergency,” Delmiglio said.
The town — with more than 15,000 inhabitants — doesn’t have a working emergency room, only a hospital mainly specializing in cancer patients, who are particularly at risk for contracting the virus.
In another hotbed of the virus outbreak — Veneto’s tiny town of Vo’Euganeo, which has most of Veneto’s 43 cases — local authorities were still planning to test all 3,300 residents and 600 acting hospital staff.
“I’m being optimistic and I feel well,” said resident Andrea Casalis, as he waited to be tested. “People continue to go out here and talk in the streets, but we try to keep some security distance.”


‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Daudzai

Updated 15 min 45 sec ago

‘Political reconciliation’ with Pakistan top priority: Daudzai

  • Pakistan played positive role in US-Taliban peace talks, says diplomat

PESHAWAR: Afghanistan’s newly appointed special envoy for Pakistan has had put “mending political relations” between the two estranged nations as one of his top priorities.

Mohammed Umer Daudzai, on Tuesday said that his primary focus would be to ensure lasting peace in Afghanistan and maintain strong ties with Pakistan, especially after Islamabad’s key role in the Afghan peace process earlier this year.

In an exclusive interview, the diplomat told Arab News: “Two areas have been identified to focus on with renewed vigor, such as lasting peace in Afghanistan and cementing Pak-Afghan bilateral ties in economic, social, political and other areas.”

In order to achieve these aims, he said, efforts would be intensified “to mend political relations” between the neighboring countries.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,600-kilometer porous border and have been at odds for years. Bonds between them have been particularly strained due to a deep mistrust and allegations of cross-border infiltration by militants.

Kabul has blamed Islamabad for harboring Taliban leaders after they were ousted from power in 2001. But Pakistan has denied the allegations and, instead, accused Kabul of providing refuge to anti-Pakistan militants – a claim rejected by Afghanistan.

Daudzai said his immediate priority would be to focus on “political reconciliation” between the two countries, especially in the backdrop of a historic peace agreement signed in February this year when Pakistan played a crucial role in facilitating a troop withdrawal deal between the US and the Taliban to end the decades-old Afghan conflict. “Afghanistan needs political reconciliation which the Afghan government has already been working on to achieve bottom-up harmony,” he added.

Daudzai’s appointment Monday by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took place days after Islamabad chose Mohammed Sadiq as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special representative for Afghanistan.

Reiterating the need to maintain strong bilateral ties with all of its neighbors, Daudzai said Pakistan’s role was of paramount importance to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan has a positive role in the US-Taliban peace talks, and now Islamabad could play a highly significant role in the imminent intra-Afghan talks. I will explore all options for a level-playing field for the success of all these initiatives,” he said, referring in part to crucial peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban which were delayed due to a stalemate in a prisoner exchange program – a key condition of the Feb. 29 peace deal.

Under the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and around 1,000 government prisoners were to be freed by March 10. So far, Afghanistan has released 3,000 prisoners, while the Taliban have freed 500. Daudzai said that while dates had yet to be finalized, the intra-Afghan dialogue could begin “within weeks.”

He added: “A date for intra-Afghan talks hasn’t been identified yet because there is a stalemate on prisoners’ release. But I am sure they (the talks) will be kicked off within weeks.”

Experts say Daudzai’s appointment could give “fresh momentum” to the stalled process and revitalize ties between the two estranged neighbors.

“Mohammed Sadiq’s appointment...could lead Kabul-Islamabad to a close liaison and better coordination,” Irfanullah Khan, an MPhil scholar and expert on Afghan affairs, told Arab News.

Daudzai said that he would be visiting Islamabad to kickstart the process as soon as the coronavirus disease-related travel restrictions were eased.

Prior to being appointed as the special envoy, he had served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan from April 2011 to August 2013.

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