The novel coronavirus has infected almost 6.3 million people as of Monday morning, with more than 375,000 people having died of COVID-19 complications. The curve has been flattened in many regions where life is resuming to some degree, but the threat isn’t gone. Some warn that a second peak is possible, and others expect a second wave at some point down the line, quite possibly in the fall.
What’s clear is that the virus hasn’t disappeared and won’t anytime soon. Experts say it might never be eradicated, though we hope to find effective drugs and vaccines to help us treat and prevent the illness. To say the virus has disappeared is incredibly misleading, at best, but that’s exactly what one Italian doctor has claimed.
“In reality, the virus clinically no longer exists in Italy,” Alberto Zangrillo told RAI television, via Reuters. “The swabs that were performed over the last 10 days showed a viral load in quantitative terms that was absolutely infinitesimal compared to the ones carried out a month or two months ago.”
In real reality, Italy has registered at least 300 new cases per day over the last 10 days, and as many as 600, which means at least 3,000 people have been declared COVID-19 positive over the previous 10 days. This is consistent with the phenomenon of flattening the curve, something Italy has been working on since early March.
It’s one thing to say that the social distancing measures worked, and quite another to declare that “the virus clinically no longer exists in Italy,” and suggests it’s no longer as infectious.
Zangrillo is the head of San Raffaele Hospital in Milan in the northern region of Lombardy, a region that’s been heavily affected by COVID-19. Lombardy is where the Italian epidemic started back in February.
Zangrillo went as far as to say that some experts were too alarmist about a second wave and added that politicians need to take into account the new reality. “We’ve got to get back to being a normal country,” he said. “Someone has to take responsibility for terrorizing the country.”
Such remarks are more in line with what politicians would say in support of reopening the economy than health experts who have actually experienced the disease firsthand.
The Italian government pushed back: “Pending scientific evidence to support the thesis that the virus has disappeared … I would invite those who say they are sure of it not to confuse Italians,” health ministry undersecretary Sandra Zampa said in a statement. “We should instead invite Italians to maintain the maximum caution, maintain physical distancing, avoid large groups, to frequently wash their hands, and to wear masks.”
Those are the same guidelines other governments are offering for the early stages of opening their economies.
San Martino hospital’s head of the infectious diseases clinic Matteo Bassetti offered a more realistic assessment of the situation. He told Italian news agency ANSA that “he strength the virus had two months ago is not the same strength it has today. It is clear that today the COVID-19 disease is different.”
Italy has seen 233,019 COVID-19 cases and 33,415 deaths. Some 42,000 cases are still active as of Monday morning.
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