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.”


New Delhi accused of ‘hate-mongering’ over virus

Updated 13 August 2020

New Delhi accused of ‘hate-mongering’ over virus

  • Despite a prominent temple in India becoming a disease hotspot, there has been no public uproar, as was the case when the Tablighi Jamaat was accused of spreading the disease earlier this year

NEW DELHI: Muslim groups and political analysts have accused the Indian government of double standards after a Hindu temple in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh said over 700 of its members had tested positive for coronavirus.

The accusation follows claims that the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ), a Muslim missionary group, were “super spreaders” after a New Delhi gathering in March.

“Our political class has accepted the hegemony of Hindu majoritarianism uncritically, and that has been the guiding principle in dealing with this health crisis. Taking an anti-Muslim stance characterizes the new normal,” said Hilal Ahmad of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a New Delhi-based think tank.

The Lord Venkateswara Temple in Tirupati said on Sunday that three people had died from the disease, including a head priest.

“Of the 743 infected, about 402 people have recovered, while
338 people are undergoing treatment in care facilities,” said Anil Kumar Singhal, the temple’s executive officer.

The temple reopened after months of lockdown on June 11 following “requests from devotees,” he added, while entry was monitored through “strict measures.”

However, despite the prominent temple becoming a disease hotspot, there has been no public uproar, as was the case when the TJ was accused of spreading the disease earlier this year.

At the time, the government had evacuated over 2,300 people and placed 1,800 in quarantine. Media reports said more than 25,000 people who had come in contact with the missionary group had been quarantined across India.

The government alleges that the TJ hosted gatherings of thousands of people from across India and abroad despite the coronavirus threat.

However, some believe that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is being “divisive” in its approach.

“Coronavirus in India is being used by hate-mongers to divide people in the name of religion,” said Shahid Ali, a TJ lawyer.

He added that when coronavirus cases were detected among the TJ group, both the media and a section of the ruling class “began propagating hate against Muslims.”

“As a result, common people started sidelining and threatening Muslims. Now, when there are so many coronavirus cases in Hindu places of worship, the media is silent. Coronavirus does not have a religion, but India gave coronavirus a religion,” he said.

However, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the comparison is misplaced and maintained its stance that the TJ was the “perpetrator” of the virus, while the Hindus in Tirupati are “victims.”

“When the TJ incident happened, there were very few coronavirus cases. The TJ demonstrated they were deviants violating lockdown. They intentionally kept everything under wraps,” said BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma.

“We should stop politicizing the health issue,” he added.

“Coronavirus cases in India have reached 2 million, and those in temples or other places of worship are victims, not perpetrators. We should stop politicizing issues of health. These decisions, like any other decisions of government, are not taken on communal lines.”

However, some have disagreed and accused the authorities of being “anti-science” and stigmatizing Muslims.

“The government is anti-science and should have learned a lesson from the TJ incident and stopped religious gatherings. But now we know that the government and media were working with a particular agenda – they just wanted to victimize Muslims,” said Harjit Singh Bhatti, president of the New Delhi-based Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum.

Bhatti raised the issue of a recent religious event in the city of Ayodhya, where the Indian prime minister launched the construction on a Hindu temple, in “a total disregard for anti-virus measures and protocols.”

He added: “If he does not follow norms, then how can he dare question others? Modi is a prisoner of his own politics.”