Italy's Lombardy again in virus crisis as Brescia sees surge

Italy’s northern Lombardy region is asking the national government to send more vaccines to help stem a surge of new cases in the province of Brescia

Via AP news wire
Thursday 25 February 2021 16:28 GMT
Virus Outbreak Italy
Virus Outbreak Italy (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Italy’s northern Lombardy region, where Europe's coronavirus outbreak erupted last year, asked the national government Thursday for more vaccines to help stem a surge of new cases that are taxing the health system in the province of Brescia

Brescia, with a population of around 1.2 million, has seen its daily caseload go from the mid-100s at the start of February to 901 on Wednesday, due in part to clusters of cases traced to the British variant. Doctors say the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Brescia's main public hospital has gone from an average of around 200 to 300 recently.

The region’s governor, Attilio Fontana, said he told the health minister during a call Thursday that Lombardy needed an “immediate delivery (of vaccines) in the territory where the virus is growing.”

Already, Lombardy — Italy’s most populous region — has imposed new lockdown measures in Brescia and revamped its vaccine strategy to redirect the jabs it has on hand to Brescia and nearby towns in neighboring Bergamo. The aim of the strategy is to inoculate as many people as possible as quickly as possible in the hardest-hit areas.

Guido Bertolasso, in charge of the vaccine campaign, said the region was going to bypass the 30% reserves that the national government recommends keeping on hand for second doses, and starting Thursday would begin vaccinating residents aged 60-79, well earlier than scheduled. Lombardy only recently began vaccinating people aged over 80, after prioritizing health care workers and residents of nursing homes.

The aim of the campaign, Bertolasso said, is to create a “health cordon” in the area with blanket vaccinations, basing the strategy on studies from Britain and Israel — and even on Lombardy's own data that show declines in infection rates as more people are vaccinated with even one dose.

“This is war,” he said.

Brescia’s deputy mayor, Laura Castelletti, said residents were willing to accept new lockdown measures — which include closing all schools and day-care centers — as long as the vaccine campaign could accelerate.

“We are ready to make sacrifices if the vaccination campaign goes forward 24/7,” she said.

Brescia, along with neighboring Bergamo, were two of the provinces hardest hit during the first wave of the pandemic, which began this time last year and quickly turned Lombardy into the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe.

Lombardy as a whole still accounts for nearly a third of Italy s 96,600 confirmed COVID-19 dead, and a fifth of its 2.85 million confirmed infections. Italy has the world's sixth-highest confirmed death toll, and the second in Europe after Britain.

Italy's vaccine campaign, which has administered 3.87 million doses, has been slowed by delays in deliveries from the three pharmaceutical companies supplying the European Union: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the health ministry would redirect any vaccines to Lombardy, given previously established quotas which have already delivered the most doses there.

Italy's virus czar, Domenico Arcuri, didn't address Fontana's request in a statement Thursday but boasted that inoculations showed “a comforting increase" this week, averaging around 100,000 a day nationally.


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