Interview: Leading expert assesses Italy's handling of coronavirus crisis

Source: Xinhua| 2020-04-21 02:17:39|Editor: huaxia

by Grandesso Federico

PADOVA, Italy, April 20 (Xinhua) -- Upon his return to Italy from the Imperial College in London, Andrea Crisanti, Director of the Molecular-Microbiology Department of the Padua University Hospital and a leading scientific consultant on the coronavirus in Italy's Veneto region, shared with Xinhua his insights into the pandemic and assessed Italy's handling of the crisis.

The current lockdown measures in Italy have been very effective in slowing down the transmission of the coronavirus as evidenced by a progressive reduction of hospital and intensive care unit length of stay, Crisanti said.

The social distancing measures have proved their worth but staying at home in itself is not enough. "We also use geolocation data to monitor the whereabouts of coronavirus patients in order to map clusters and cases. When somebody calls our health service suspecting they may have coronavirus symptoms, our team goes there, performs the swab test on the caller but also on their relatives and neighbors. This is our approach today," he explained.

"The Veneto region has made a major investment to increase our ability to perform tests and facilitate the molecular identification of the virus because we believe that this is crucial to understanding how the epidemic is progressing, and where we should put the most effort to block transmission," Crisanti said.

"We still need to intensify our efforts to isolate infected cases and perform swabs for molecular detection in contacts and neighbors in order to find as many infected people as possible," he said, explaining that transmission may occur anywhere -- at home, in nursing homes or in hospitals.

Transmissions in close quarters, especially in homes, must be blocked. This was a key lesson that Wuhan in China had learned earlier in combating the coronavirus. This gave rise to the concept and practice of centralized quarantine, where infected people with mild symptoms are quarantined not with their family members but in hotels or makeshift centralized facilities, such as repurposed gyms or exhibition halls. Renowned medical journals, such as The Lancet, have published peer-reviewed papers detailing this practice.

"We have advocated these measures also on the basis of the study we conducted in the town of Vo Euganeo in northern Italy, where we found that the probability of becoming infected, when living with somebody who is already infected, is 100 times higher than for those who live with uninfected people," Crisanti noted.

Vo Euganeo made headlines in March when the town drastically reduced coronavirus infections -- to zero -- by ordering a lockdown and testing all 3,300 residents for coronavirus.

"I know that some regions, for example Lombardy, are contemplating this. In the Lazio region, which includes Rome, the authorities move the infected persons away from their home. I think this is the correct procedure," he said.

Asked about his cooperation with Chinese experts, Crisanti recalled that "a Chinese delegation came to Italy and they spent a few days in Padova. We enjoyed very much interacting with them. We discussed therapy, life support measures and ways of identifying infected people."

Contact tracing, a method used to identify people who may have had contact with infected individuals, has been implemented at scale and with dedicated personnel and resources in several Asian countries.

While there are several such projects under development in Italy, Crisanti said, this method has triggered legal privacy concerns. "Theoretically, at the moment nobody is allowed to do tracing. However, the understanding is there of the need for tracing once the social distancing measures are lifted," Crisanti explained.

In Italy the national lockdown has been extended until May 3. "I don't think that much will happen in the first week of May, which is more of an indicative day rather than a firm commitment by the authorities," Crisanti said.

"I think we must first and foremost agree on a method to establish the actual number of cases, because I don't think that the social distancing measures can be lifted without knowing the day-to-day change in the number of cases, as well as their territorial and social distribution," he said.

The European Union (EU) countries are pursuing divergent policies. As free movement of people is an inherent principle of the EU, it will be difficult to reconcile these countries' approaches.

"The risk is that the relative numbers of the infected people in each country will vary dramatically, and so the danger is there for infections to take off again once the restrictive measures are peeled back. This problem must be addressed at one point," Crisanti noted.

This, he said, would necessitate the establishment of a common institution, a common body that could coordinate the response at the European level.

Crisanti still hopes that the coronavirus crisis will subside in the summer, arguing that "the transmission in tropical Africa is slower than anticipated, and in southern Italy the virus does not seem to spread as quickly as projected." Enditem