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People's Daily Online

Italy keeps regional travel ban in place amid concerns for COVID-19 variants

People's Daily Online

(Xinhua) 13:47, February 23, 2021

ROME, Feb. 22 (Xinhua) -- Italy extended an inter-regional travel ban for another month on Monday, as health authorities were increasingly concerned for the circulation of coronavirus variants despite a relatively stable pandemic scenario.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi's new cabinet issued a specific decree to prolong until March 27 the travel restriction, which was due to expire on Feb. 25. The ban will apply to the whole country, and would only exempt traveling for proven reasons of emergency, work, or health.

The new decree also confirmed that visiting other people's home will remain subject to the limit of two adults at a time in all regions but those areas declared as "red" (means the highest risk of infection). In the "red" areas, calling on relatives or friends will not be allowed at all.

The decision came as 9,630 new cases were registered on Monday against the previous day, according to the data by the Health Ministry.

The pandemic curve has remained quite stable in the last weeks, with a limited increase in new cases and a downward trend in active infections observed since Jan. 11.

On Monday, the number of active infections dropped by 992 cases to 387,903, while recoveries grew by 10,335 to a total of 2,334,968. Also on Monday, 274 new deaths were registered against the previous day, bringing the country's death toll to 95,992.

Overall, considering active infections, fatalities and recoveries, Italy totaled over 2.8 million cases, the latest data showed.

Despite the progress so far, experts with the Health Ministry and the National Health Institute (ISS) have lately warned about the rising risk represented by the COVID-19 variants already detected in the country, although on a minority of cases so far.

"We need to act promptly and very aggressively against the variants that have not yet spread too much here," ISS Director of Infectious Diseases Department Giovanni Rezza told reporters in the institute's latest press conference on Friday.

"Selected red zones must therefore be declared within the regions (where the variants have been registered)," Rezza stressed.

Currently, several municipalities have been declared red zones and subjected to full lockdown in the central Umbria region, northeast Alto Adige autonomous province, and northwest Piedmont and Lombardy regions.

As for the variant first detected in Britain, following a survey at the national level last week, the ISS warned it was currently responsible for 17.8 percent of new active infections in Italy, but "likely destined to become the prevalent one in the next months."

Meanwhile, the vaccination campaign exceeded 3.5 million people by midday on Monday, according to the statistics provided by coronavirus emergency commissioner Domenico Arcuri's office.

Health workers made the vast majority (over 2.2 million) of them, followed by other categories at risk (staff in nursing homes, schools, and army), and by over-80 elders.

Seen as the most powerful weapon against the pandemic, vaccination campaigns with authorized COVID-19 vaccines are ongoing in several countries around the world.

Further 251 candidate vaccines are still being developed worldwide -- 70 of them in clinical trials -- including in Germany, Italy, China, Russia, Britain, and the United States, according to data released by the World Health Organization on Feb. 19.

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